Webster 1913 Edition



, AS.
. See
Used as an auxiliary verb, to express a conditional or contingent act or state, or as a supposition of an actual fact; also, to express moral obligation (see
); e. g.: they should have come last week; if I should go; I should think you could go.
“You have done that you should be sorry for.”
Syn. – See

Webster 1828 Edition



shood. The preterit of shall, but now used as an auxiliary verb, either in the past time or conditional present. 'He should have paid the debt at the time the note became due.' Should here denotes past time. 'I should ride to town this day if the weather would permit.' Here should expresses present or future time conditionally. In the second and third persons, it denotes obligation or duty, as in the first example above.
1. I should go. When should in this person is uttered without emphasis, it declares simply that an event would take place, on some condition or under circumstances.
But when expressed with emphasis, should in this person denotes obligation, duty or determination.
2. Thou shouldst go.

Definition 2022




Alternative forms



  1. (auxiliary) Be obliged to; have an obligation to; indicates that the subject of the sentence has some obligation to execute the sentence predicate or that the speaker has some strong advice but has no authority to enforce it.
    What do I think? What should I do?
    You should never drink and drive.
    You should always wear a seat belt.
  2. (auxiliary) ought to; speaker's opinion, or advice that an action is correct, beneficial, or desirable.
    You should brush your teeth every day.
    I should exercise more often, but I'm too lazy.
    • 2012 August 21, Pilkington, Ed, “Death penalty on trial: should Reggie Clemons live or die?”, in The Guardian:
      Next month, Clemons will be brought before a court presided over by a "special master", who will review the case one last time. The hearing will be unprecedented in its remit, but at its core will be a simple issue: should Reggie Clemons live or die?
  3. (auxiliary) Will be likely to (become or do something); indicates a degree of possibility or probability that the subject of the sentence is likely to execute the sentence predicate.
    When you press this button, the pilot flame should ignite.
    You should be warm enough with that coat.
  4. (auxiliary, subjunctive) Used as a variant of the present subjunctive.
    If I should be late, go without me.
    Should you need extra blankets, you will find them in the closet.
    • 1922, Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit
      It was a long weary time, for the Boy was too ill to play, and the little Rabbit found it rather dull with nothing to do all day long. But he snuggled down patiently, and looked forward to the time when the Boy should be well again, and they would go out in the garden amongst the flowers and the butterflies and play splendid games in the raspberry thicket like they used to.
    • 2008, Peter Michael Higgins, Number Story: From Counting to Cryptography, page 141 (Google Books view):
      He is noted for coming up with his 'wager', in which he argued that he was prepared to believe in God on the grounds that he had nothing to lose if he was wrong, and everything to gain should he be right.
  5. (auxiliary) simple past tense of shall
    I told him that I should be busy tomorrow.
    • 1842, Frederick Marryat, Peter Simple Frederick Marryat, page 19 (Google Books view):
      I was astonished at this polite offer, which my modesty induced me to ascribe more to my uniform than to my own merits, and, as I felt no inclination to refuse the compliment, I said that I should be most happy.
  6. (auxiliary, formal, literary) A variant of would when used with first person subjects.
    I should imagine that everything is fine right now.
    I should be lucky if I were you.
    • 1817, Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey
      I should like to dine with him. I dare say he gives famous dinners.
    • 1900, L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
      "If our friends, the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman, were only with us," said the Lion, "I should be quite happy."
    • 1900, L. Frank Baum , The Wonderful Wizard of Oz Chapter 23
      "Your Silver Shoes will carry you over the desert," replied Glinda. "If you had known their power you could have gone back to your Aunt Em the very first day you came to this country." "But then I should not have had my wonderful brains!" cried the Scarecrow. "I might have passed my whole life in the farmer's cornfield."

Usage notes

  • Should has, as its most common meaning in modern English, the sense ought as in I should go, but I don't see how I can. However, the older sense as the subjunctive of the future indicative auxiliary, shall, is often used with I or we to indicate a more polite form than would: I should like to go, but I can't. In much speech and writing, should has been replaced by would In contexts of this kind, but it remains in conditional subjunctives: should (never would) I go, I should wear my new dress.
  • (obligation): Contrast with stronger auxiliary verb must, which indicates that the speaker believes the subject is required to execute the predicate, or have to which indicates that the speaker believes the subject is required to execute, although speaker might disagree with the principle, and should which is merely advice - take it or leave it.
  • (likely): Possibility, or probability. Contrast with stronger auxiliary verb in the affirmative must, and negative sense can't, which indicate that there is a logical imperative certainty that the subject will (or will not) execute the predicate. Also compare with the weaker might, which indicates a 50/50 possibility, or probability.
  • (subjunctive): In American English, the present subjunctive is commonly used instead of should (e.g., "suggest that he stay"), while in British English, should is commoner (e.g., "suggest that he should stay"). Both forms of English, however, sometimes use should in certain conditionals (e.g., "If I should be in trouble, I shall call you"). Furthermore, should is not used in independent clauses with the present subjunctive, many of which clauses are now fossilized expressions (e.g., "Peace be with you", "suffice it to say"; never should be or should suffice).
  • See the usage notes at shall.



Related terms

  • shouldst (archaic second-person singular of should)
  • should've (contraction of auxiliary phrase should have)



should (plural shoulds)

  1. A statement of what should be the case as opposed to what is the case.
    • 2003, Robert L. Leahy, Overcoming Resistance in Cognitive Therapy:
      However, we can address maladaptive shoulds by examining the differences between prior events, causes, proximate causes, and moral responsibility.

See also


Most common English words before 1923: now · then · a · #80: should · can · made · did