Usage of shall and should

1

"I thought I should tell you the results."

 

I think that according to tense agreement, shall became should there and I was wondering, then, if shall has the meaning of what is the right or sensible thing to do or duty? Then can I also say, "You shall brush your teeth before going to bed." for the same meaning as "You should brush your teeth before going to bed." Or only should is used for the meaning of what is the right or sensible thing to do and tense agreement in sentences like the example, but shall does not have the meaning of duty? Thank you so much as always and have a good day.

edited Feb 09 '13 at 13:27 Hans Contributor

2 answers


2

Hello again,

 

Yet another great question!

 

I thought that I should tell you the results is correct, and shall cannot be substituted for should in this sentence.   Because the sentence begins with I thought that, the focus of the sentence is on the past, and shall cannot be used for a past meaning.  Some, but not all, grammar reference books say that should is the past form of shall but unfortunately it is a little more complicated than that.

 

Let's look at some examples in the past, present and future:

 

Past

 

Your example sentence is a good one.  I thought that I should tell you the results is correct, but, as I said above, shall would be a mistake in this past context.

 

Present

 

In questions, shall and should have basically the same meaning in the present.  When you use shall it sounds more like an offer, whereas when you use should it sounds like you are asking for advice; oftentimes, the distinction is not a big one.

 

The phone is ringing.  Shall I answer it?

The phone is ringing.  Should I answer it?

 

In positive sentences, the difference in meaning between shall and should is greater in the present, especially in the second and third person:

 

I shall go home now. (I am going to go home now. A decision. Will is also possible here.)

I should go home now. (It is a good idea, but maybe I will stay longer. A suggestion to myself.)

You shall do what I tell you.  (I am commanding/ordering you to do what I tell you to do. Will is also possible here.) 

You should do what I tell you. (I am giving you strong advice.)

He shall come to this meeting immediately, or else I will fire him. (a command/an order; will is also possible here.)

She should come to the meeting immediately, if she knows what's good for her. (a strong piece of advice)

 

Future

 

For questions about the future, just like the past, shall and should have basically the same meaning.  When you use shall it sounds more like an offer, whereas when you use should it sounds like you are asking for advice; oftentimes, the distinction is not a big one.

 

Shall I meet his plane tomorrow?

Should I meet his plane tomorrow?

 

Similar to the present tense, in positive statements about the future, the difference in meaning between shall and should is greater, especially in the second and third person:

 

I shall go home tomorrow. (I am going to go home tomorrow. A decision. Will is also possible here.)

I should go home tomorrow. (It is a good idea, but maybe I will stay longer. A suggestion to myself.)

You shall be here at 9 am tomorrow.  (I am commanding/ordering you to do it. Will is also possible here.)

You should be here at 9 am tomorrow. (I am giving you strong advice.)

He shall come to the meeting tomorrow, or else I will fire him. (a command/an order; will is also possible here.)

She should come to the meeting tomorrow, if she knows what's good for her. (a strong piece of advice)

 

I hope this summary can help you to understand that there is a big difference between saying You should brush your teeth (advice) and You shall brush your teeth (command).  There may be other contexts that I have not thought of, but I hope this helps.

 

Shawn

link comment answered Feb 09 '13 at 14:29 Shawn Mooney Expert
1

'Should' is a recommendation, while 'shall' or 'will' is an order.

I learned the difference in shall and will many years ago, but I think it still holds true.

Use 'shall' in the first person to imply normal emphasis.

I shall go. We shall go.

Use 'will' in the second and third person to imply normal emphasis.

You will go. He will go. They will go.

 

Reverse these to imply greater emphasis.

I will go. Nothing will stop me from going.

You shall go. You have no choice.

 

The exception to this rule is when your mother tells you to do something, then 'shall' and 'will' carry the same emphasis.

link comment answered Feb 09 '13 at 14:21 Lewis Neidhardt Grammarly Fellow

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