Difference Between Should and Ought To

Main Difference – Should vs Ought To

Should and ought are modal verbs which are used to indicate duty, obligation, and advice. The modal verb ought is always used followed by the preposition to. Although should and ought to seem to be basically the same since they are used interchangeably by many speakers and writers, there are subtle differences between them. However, the main difference between should and ought to is their usage; should is the most commonly used modal verb of the two. At the same time, ought to is more used in written language than in spoken language.Difference Between Should and Ought To - infographic

Should – Meaning and Usage

As mentioned above, should expresses advice, obligation, and duty. Should can be used to express

– Obligation or correctness, especially from the point of view of duty or appropriateness

You should have told the truth to someone.

Pets should not be allowed to roam free.

-Advice or suggestions

You should try to get some rest.

Should I call a doctor?

-Predictions based on logic or a typical situation

He is on his way; he should be here soon.

The bus should arrive in few minutes.

Should is more common usage than ought to. In addition, should is generally used to express an individual opinion; it is a subjective opinion expressing what the speaker or writer feels is best.

Main Difference - Should vs Ought To

Ought to – Meaning and Usage

Ought is also a modal verb that expresses a duty, obligation or advice. Unlike other modal verbs, ought is always followed by the preposition to. Ought to can be used to express the following meanings.

-The notion that something is the right thing to do, because it’s morally correct, polite, or someone’s duty

He ought to admit his mistake.

You ought to respect the law.

-Predictions based on normal circumstances or logic:

My admission letter ought to arrive today.

The weather ought to be cold in December.

-Offering or Asking for advice or recommendations

What ought I do?

You ought to read the book before you watch the movie.

Ought to is less commonly used than should; the usage of ought to is limited in spoken language. Ought to is also considered to be more objective than should since it represents law, regulations, or duty. Therefore, it is argued that ought to is more emphatic than should. For example,

He ought to be punished, but I won’t punish him.

This sentence implies that he deserves punishment according to the accepted view of the soceity, but the speaker won’t punish him.

Difference Between Should and Ought To

Difference Between Should and Ought To


Should is more commonly used than ought to.

Ought to is less commonly used.

Spoken and Written Language

Should is used in both spoken and written language.

Ought to is more used in written language.

Subjective vs Objective

Should expresses a subjective opinion.

Ought to expresses an objective view.

Public vs Personal

Should expresses the personal view of the speaker.

Ought to expresses the accepted view in the society.

Image Courtesy:

“Leave this to Us Sonny Art.” By Ministry of Health (publisher/sponsor), Cowes, Dudley S (artist), J Weiner Ltd, 71/5 New Oxford Street, London WC1 (printer), Her Majesty’s Stationery Office (publisher/sponsor) – This is photograph Art .IWM PST 13854 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums., (Public Domain,) via Commons Wikimedia 

“He Says it should have been over long ago…” – U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, (Public Domain) via Commons Wikimedia

About the Author: Hasa

Hasanthi is a seasoned content writer and editor with over 8 years of experience. Armed with a BA degree in English and a knack for digital marketing, she explores her passions for literature, history, culture, and food through her engaging and informative writing.