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Should, ought
by Guest User - Monday, 29 June 2009, 11:17 AM
  I have difficulty with the following sentences

I should go

I should have gone

I ought to go

I ought to have gone


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Re: Should, ought
by Guest User - Monday, 29 June 2009, 05:56 PM

You are not alone! I can tell you that many English people are confused by the difference between should and ought.

"Should" means that there is some agency, person or authority etc., that is tending to cause you to do something.

Example: I should go and see my mother regularly. (for the reason that she likes and expects to see me)

I should have gone to see to see my mother yesterday (it's in the past now, and you didn't go-naughty girl!)

"I ought" implies there is little or no external pressure on you to do something, BUT, you yourself feel it would be better if it were done.


I ought to wash my hair today. (It needs washing but nobody will be particularly bothered if you don't wash it!).

I hope that helps. By the way. Are you a Greek person learning English?

My wife and I now live in Crete, are learning Greek, (Slowly!)

Best wishes


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Re: Should, ought
by Greg Brush - Tuesday, 30 June 2009, 12:34 PM
  While these two auxiliary verbs had clear distinctions many centuries ago, in practice there is little difference anymore in contemporary colloquial English between the two -- they both suggest an obligation to do something and can be used interchangeably.

originally carried a sense of moral obligation, and still has this connotation today, although the use of ought nowadays has acquired a vague suggestion that the obligation will not be carried out:
I ought to do this (but it's unlikely that I will),
whereas should is more neutral about the outcome:
I should do this (although it's not clear whether I will or will not).
Other than this possible slight shade of meaning, should and ought can be considered colloquially synonymous, especially in American English.

The only obvious difference now is the syntax required: should is followed by an infinitive, while ought is followed by the preposition to plus an infinitive:
I should go to church more often; he should repay his debts; they should study their Greek lessons.
I ought to go to church more often; he ought to repay his debts; they ought to study their Greek lessons.

Greg Brush
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Re: Should, ought
by Guest User - Wednesday, 1 July 2009, 09:09 AM

I'd back up what Greg says here although this really is a minefield for the person learning English, isn't it?

Sentences such as "I thought you ought to know" and "I think you ought to know" don't usually indicate that someone will end up not knowing something.

Likewise, sentences such as "you ought to know better than to do such a thing" or "you ought to be ashamed of yourself" aren't necessarily spoken to such ignorant or shameless people!

"He ought to win with that song, it's the best entry in the contest" could also represent a strong belief in a positive outcome.  "House prices ought to go up by a third" has only a limited sense that something else might happen.

Like the use of "να" in Greek, the implications of "ought to" often have to be discerned and learned within specific contexts.