Modals: Giving Opinions and Advice


  • Using modals (should or ought to):
    • to show you think something is a good idea or that it is right for people to do.
      • I think more men (should/ought to) teach in elementary school.
    • to show something is a bad idea or that it is not right for people to do.
      • Greta thins women should not drive trucks.
    • should/should not and ought to/ought not to express the speaker’s opinion about a situation. They are used to give advice to somebody or when you want to give your opinion about a topic or situation.
  • Making modals (should or ought to):
    • Should and ought to are modals. They do not take s in the third person singular.
      • She should be a lawyer.
      • He ought to save money.
    • Questions and negatives are made without do.
      • Should we go? No, we shouldn’t.
    • Ought is not often used in questions and negatives.


  • Should vs. Must
    • Should shows that something is a good idea.
      • A: I can’t under this topic.
        B: You should ask someone for help.
        B is giving advice, but A is not forced to follow the advice. A can still decide what to do.
    • Must is much stronger.
      • A: I don’t have a driver’s license.
        B: You must get a license, then you can drive.
        B is giving advice, but in this situation A is forced to follow the advice. A has no choice.
  • Should and Ought to vs. Had Better
    • You can use had better to give advice.
    • Had better is much stronger than should and ought to, but not as strong as must.
      • You should go to school tomorrow. (I think it’s a good idea for you to do this.)
      • You had better go to school tomorrow. (If you don’t go, something bad will happen.)
    • Had better also expresses more urgency than should.
      • You should see a doctor about your cough. (It’s a good idea.)
      • You had better see a doctor about your cough. (It’s serious.)
      • You must see a doctor about your cough. (It’s obligatory.)
    • Had better is often used in situations in which the speaker has authority over the hearer.
      • Teacher to student: If you want to pass this course, you had better finish all your assignments.
      • Student to teacher: If you visit my hometown, you should visit the museum.
  • Should vs. Could
    • You can also use could to express opinions or to give advice. However, could is weaker than should because it only expresses possible possibilities for action in a situation. It does not show that the speaker thinks this is a good idea.
      • You should see that film. (I think it is a good idea for you to see it.)
      • You could see that film. (It is possible for you to see that movie if you want to.)
    • We often use could when we want to suggest all the possibilities without saying which one we think is best.
      • If you want to improve your English, you could take a course, you could listen to English-speaking podcasts, you could find a conversation partner, or you could take a vacation in Europe.
  • Should and Ought to vs, Could, Had Better, and Must
        • Modals can be ranked based on strength.
          • Weak
            should / ought to
            had better


  • Had better refers to the present and the future. It does not talk about the past, even though it uses had.
    • You had better finish this by tomorrow.
    • I had better leave at 5:00.
    • He had better buy my a new car.
  • Had is sometimes contracted to ‘d.
    • You‘d better leave me alone.
  • To make a negative, use had had better not.
    • You‘d better not steal that.
    • You‘d better not hand in your homework late.