Difference between Should and Must | Should vs Must

Have you ever felt confused about where to use ‘should’ or ‘must’ in a sentence? Don’t worry, as it’s not just you but many others who might have felt this way. Since most people don’t understand when they have to use these words exactly, they end up using them interchangeably. As a result, the entire meaning, as well as the tone of the sentence gets changed. So how would you decide when to use these terms? The following article will help students understand when and how to use the words ‘should’ and ‘must’.

There are words in the English Language that can be used interchangeably without changing the contexts of sentences, but sometimes this interchanging of words changes the entire meanings as well as the tones of the sentences. So to avoid such mistakes, one must know the meanings of the words they are using. The following points will describe the difference between the commonly used words ‘should’ and ‘must’  in English sentences.

Table Summarising the Difference between Should and Must

Should Must
Meaning The word ‘should’ is used for actions/responsibilities/duties that what one thinks is best for the concerned subject. The word ‘must’ is used for actions/responsibilities/duties that are considered compulsory/necessary.
Usage It is used as an Auxiliary Verb. It is used as an Auxiliary Verb.
Example You should have told the truth. Amy must submit the paper by tomorrow.

The table above shows that the words ‘should’, and ‘must’ are neither synonymous nor can be used interchangeably. Students who were not able to differentiate between these two terms can now clearly see the difference between them. The following points discussed below will help students have a more better understanding of the words ‘should’ and ‘must’.

Difference between Should and Must – Meanings

One of the simplest ways to remember when to use ‘should’ and ‘must’ is to understand the meaning of the sentence. If you want to speak about a compulsory/necessary action, then use ‘must’ in the sentence, for example, ‘One must obey the traffic rules to avoid accidents.’ Here, ‘must’ is used to instil a strong tone in the sentence, i.e., as a command, whereas the word ‘should’ is used when you think any action/duties/responsibilities are best for a particular situation e.g., ‘You should visit the doctor soon.’ Here, the word ‘should’ is used as the speaker thinks it’s best for the person to visit the doctor. As soon as students understand this basic point of difference, it will be easier for them to use these words in the correct contexts.

Examples of Should and Must

The following examples will ensure students understand the terms ‘should’ and ‘must’.

Should – Simmy should take the umbrella to school today as it seems like it will rain. (auxiliary verb)

Must – The police must have caught the thief. (auxiliary verb)

Should and Must – Conclusion

The words ‘should’ and ‘must’ have entirely different meanings and can’t be used synonymously or interchangeably. When students are using these words, they have to understand the meaning of the contexts before applying them. The BYJU’S website offers various other articles on many such ‘Difference Between’ two words that students often get confused with and end up using incorrectly.


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