Modals part three

Skill: Grammar  

Category: General English & Academic English

Level: Upper-Intermediate


Part Three

Using “Should”, “Ought to”, “Had better”, “Could” to express advisability or suggestion

Should / Ought to

Should and ought to both express advisability. Their meanings differ in terms of strength from a suggestion which means (This is a good idea) to a statement about accountability or duty which means (This is a very important thing to do).


  1. You should practice harder.
  2. You ought to practice harder.

A and B means this is a good idea or this is my advice.

Note. Mostly in spoken form in American English, ought to is pronounced “otta”

Ex: I ought to “otta” study tonight, but I think I will go out with my friends instead.


Should + not = Shouldn’t

Ought (to) is not commonly used in negative

Had better

Had better is stronger than ought to and should. It often implies a warning or threat which later result in bad consequences.

Ex: You had better submit your homework on time.

It means that if you don’t submit your homework, the teacher may not accept it later and it results in losing score.

Some uses of had better:

  • It conveys a meaning in present or future
  • It is followed by simple form of the verb
  • In speaking, it is more common rather than writing

Contraction: ‘d better

Ex: You’d better stay home on Friday.

Negative: Had better + not

Ex: For being healthy, you had better not eat heavy meal for dinner.


Child: I am having trouble with physics.

Mother: You could talk to your teacher

Or you could ask your sister to help you with physics or even

I could try to help you.

Could is also used to make suggestion. Could in the above examples means it is possible to do this or that.

Note: Should is stronger than could.

Ex: You should talk to your teacher. (I recommend or I believe that it is important to talk to your teacher)

Exercise. Complete the conversation with your own ideas using should, ought to, could or had better.

1-         A: I have two years to prepare for TOEFL.

            B: You _____________________________________

2-         A: The clothes I bought last Friday don’t fit me. When I tried them in the store, they felt fine, but they don’t now.

            B: You _____________________________________

3-         A: My English class starts at 9 o’clock. I didn’t have the time.

            B: You _____________________________________

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