How to use the modal SHOULD in English

The modal verb “should” is used every day in English. We use it to refer to the present, past, and future. In this lesson, I focus on how “should” is used most often, to talk about actions in the past that didn’t happen. I show you how to use expressions like “I should have called” or “I should have gone” easily and confidently. You will learn how to combine “should” with the present perfect tense and regular or irregular verbs, to upgrade your English right away. Test your understanding with the quiz:


Hi. I’m Rebecca from engVid. In this lesson I’ll show you how to use the word “should” correctly and easily in English. Now, native speakers use the word “should” all the time; we use it to talk about the present, the past, and the future. And by the end of this lesson, you should be able to use it just as easily. Okay? So, let’s get started.

So, first of all, “should” is what’s called a modal verb. What does that mean? It’s called a helping verb. Okay? “Modal verb” just means a helping verb, and that means we cannot use the word “should” by itself; we have to use it as a helper with another verb. For example, we cannot say: “I should today”. I should what today? So, we could say: “I should study today.”, “I should work today.”, “I should sleep today.” So, you have to say: “I should” something with another… With a verb. Okay? You cannot use it by itself, and that’s why it’s called a modal verb or a helping verb; you use it with something else. But besides that, it’s actually very easy because it doesn’t change in the way that regular verbs change. Okay? And that’s what I’ll show you now.

So, let’s look at some examples of how we use the word “should”. In the present tense, we could say: “I should study today.” In the future tense, look, we say: “I should study tomorrow.” There’s hardly any difference. The difference was here, right? So this part is really easy. What’s a little bit different is when we want to talk about the past. Then we say: “I should have studied yesterday.” Okay? So we’ll be focusing on this one more; because as you can see, the present and the future are really easy for you to construct because you’re just saying “should” with the verb. All right?

Now, what does it mean when we use “should”? What does it actually mean? Well, we can use it for different reasons; we can use it to give advice. For example: “You should stop smoking.” Okay? Or we can use it to express an obligation or something that somebody needs to do. For example: “You should do your taxes.”

Or we can also use “should” to express an expectation; something that we think will happen. For example: “Okay, you’re leaving now. You should arrive there in about half an hour.” Okay? So we can use “should” in these different ways. Very often it’s used in the first way to give advice.

And when we say it, all of these things, when we use “should” for all of these reasons, we can use it to give advice to ourselves. For example: “I should exercise more.” We can use it to give advice to others. For example: “They should invite her to the party.” Or we can also use it to refer to things. “Oh, I fixed your computer; it should work well now.” Okay? So we can use it in all of these different ways.

So now let’s go to this one, which was how to use “should” to talk about things in the past. Why would you use “should” to talk about something in the past? Because you want to say that you wish that you had done something. And as we all know, we’re always in this kind of situation where we have plans and then something didn’t happen, and we wish that we had done something. Okay? So, then we use this form: “I should have” plus the verb. And the verb here is the past participle. Okay? So, we say: “I should have” plus the past participle of a regular verb or often irregular verb. All right? I’m going to show you some examples so you understand exactly how to do that.

Now, this is actually very, very useful because we don’t just say things, like: “I should have studied yesterday.” In real life, we use this form to say these kind of really important sentences. For example: “I should have called you on time. I’m sorry you got worried.”, “I should have thanked you.”, “I should have apologized. I’m sorry.” Or: “I should have helped you.” Okay? Can you see how useful this word “should” is-okay?-in real life?

Or, even if we use the negative form of “should”, which is “shouldn’t”, we could say: “I shouldn’t have forgotten your birthday. I’m sorry. Did you have a good time?” Or: “I shouldn’t have shouted at you. I’m sorry.” Or: “I shouldn’t have hurt you. Sorry I hurt your feelings.” Okay? So, you can say that, this form of using “should” in the past is actually very, very useful. All right?

Now, let’s look at this chart so you understand exactly what’s going on. So, let’s take the subject first: “I”, “You”, “We”, “They”, “He”, “She”, okay? […]

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