In Grammar By Irina

Should, must or have to — a modal verb to choose?

Let’s try to compare features of verbs should, must and have to, to understand the difference between them and find the exact translation.

Let’s start with should / should not. This verb, fortunately, there is absolutely accurate translation into Russian is / is not necessary.

You should go to that party. It’s going to be really interesting. — You should go to this party. It is really interesting.

The verb should suggests an alternative. In the case of a party, the person is given advice opinion. He has a choice — to go to a party or not.

The following example is also given advice:

If you want to feel better you should go to the gym. — If you want to feel better, you should go to the gym.

According to the speaker, going to the gym will improve the state of health and it would be nice, however, it does not mean that the person must go there.

Now consider the difference between should and have to the following examples:

  1. Her apartment is very small. She should change it.

  2. His landlord asked him to move out so he has to look for a new apartment.

In the first case the change of the apartment is desirable but not obligatory. It is believed that she should live in an apartment a little more.

In the second example, the search for a new apartment needs. Man forced to seek a new home, having no other choice.

The confusion in the choice of verbs should and have to arise from the fact that we are often necessary to translate words. These two examples can also be translated as:

  1. Her apartment is very small. She needed to change it.

  2. The landlady asked him to leave, so he needs to find a new apartment.

However, if each of these situations we will find a more detailed Russian verb, then the choice of the English version will be absolutely clear:

  1. Her apartment is very small, it is (should) change it.

  2. The landlady asked him to leave, so he is forced to (has to) look for a new apartment.

Here is another example:

  1. He does not have to cook because his mom comes to him and does cooking.

  2. He should not cook for the party because nobody likes his dishes.

In the first case the hero stories do not have to cook, he does not have to spend their time, because it makes his mother.

In the second situation, the hero is not necessary to prepare, because, in the opinion of the speaker, no one will have his cooking, and his efforts will be wasted.

Try to understand even with the verb must.

It is a verb — mix. It brought together members of the verb and should have to, but he certainly has special functions. Communication with the verb have to be traced in the past tense of the verb must, because it sounds like had to:

Yesterday I had to submit all my papers to the embassy. (Past Simple)

Every time I must submit all the necessary documents to the embassy. (Present Simple)

The verb must, of course, there is more rigor. If you compare the verbs should and must, we will see that in a situation with an alternative must practically absent.


  1. You should apologize!

  2. You must apologize!

In the two versions is a call to apologize, however, if in the first embodiment, according to the speaker, it is desirable, in the second it is necessary.

Let us translate:

  1. You should apologize!

  2. You should / shall apologize!

And in this case, too, just pick a Russian verb helps to choose the English version.

You can invite a friend to visit an interesting exhibition:

  1. You should go to this exhibition, I think.

  2. You must go to this exhibition. It’s very useful!

In the two illustrated embodiments offer sounds, but they have different strength. The first version is the advice, and the second is — a strong recommendation:

  1. I think you should go to this exhibition.

  2. You have to go to this show! This is useful!

Consider the case must vs have to:

  1. I have to go now. It’s getting dark.

  2. I must go now. It’s getting dark.

In this example, two verbs are very similar and appear synonymous. The choice of the speaker’s emotions and provide the power relation to an event:

  1. I have to go. It’s getting dark.

  2. I have to go. It’s getting dark.

In situations of «forced» is used have to, but not must.

I have no bread. I have to go to the shop. — I do not have bread. I have to go to the store. (really do not want, no one makes, but very necessary)

I have to work late tomorrow. Sorry I can not come to the party. I am forced to work long tomorrow. I can not come to the party. (not very desirable, but it is very necessary, because the circumstances)

The written instructions only used the verb must, which can be translated into Russian by the word «shall.» For example:

You must switch off your computer before you leave. — You are required to turn off your computer before you leave.

All the workers must wear the uniform. — All employees are required to wear uniforms. (probably not very desirable, but it is very necessary, have a prescription)

A very big difference between the senses must not and do not have to.

Must not always translated as «not eligible», while do not have to — translated as «not necessary, there is no need.» Consider two examples:

You must not touch anything here before the police come. — You can not touch anything until the police arrive! (it is punishable!)

We do not have to touch anything here she will come and do everything. — We do not need here is something to touch, and it will do everything. (We can, but need not)


You must not use someone’s ideas in your book without any references. It’s plagiarism. — You have no right without reference to use someone else’s ideas in your book. It — plagiarism.

You do not have to use his ideas in your book they are not that bright. You can do without them. — You do not need to take his ideas in his book, they are not so bright. You can do without them.

When selecting the modal verb should be guided by the context and understand the exact meaning of this verb in Russian. To summarize:

  • Should / should not — is / is not necessary.
  • Have to / do not have to — have to / did not have to.
  • Must / must not — must commits / does not have rights, forbidden.

The exact translation will always help you to use the correct verb.

This topic is closely related to the other as described in the articles that need to pay attention:

  • «Modal verb MUST»
  • «The modal verb HAVE TO»
  • «The modal verb NEED»
  • «The modal verb TO BE TO»
  • «The modal verb SHALL (SHOULD)»

After reading them, we recommend to pass the following test: «Test # 2 on the use of modal verbs in the English language.»



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