Saturday, December 29

Shouldn't Have and Should Have

image courtesy of stock.xchng

Now that 2012 is almost behind us and 2013 is smiling ahead, it’s the best time for us to learn the Modal Verbs shouldn’t have” and “should have.”

But before we talk about them, first we should be perfectly clear about the base Modal Verbshould.”

How Strong is “Should”?

Some learners are confused about the real meaning or strength of “should” as a Modal Verb. They think that “should” is similar to “have to” or “must.”

This isn’t true. As a matter of fact, if you try to arrange the different Modals according to strength, this is what you’ll have:

As you can see from our image above, “should” is just a middle-level Modal. It’s not as high or strong as “must” or “have to.”

This means that when you use “must” and “have to,” you’re usually talking about a duty or obligation. You don’t have a choice and in fact you’re sometimes forced to do something.


Everyone has to pay taxes.

You must wear a helmet.

On the other hand, if you use “should,” you’re just expressing a suggestion (recommendation), advice, or opinion. It’s good for the listener to take your advice and do as you say. But in the end, it’s still the listener’s choice.

Compare these with our examples above:

You should learn English with Hollywood movies.

The government should lower taxes.

The Past Tense of Modals

Now, in order to learn “shouldn’t have” and “should have,” we have to know how to change Modal Verbs to the Past Tense.

Take a look:

Modals (Present)
Have to

Had to
Had to /
Must have


Would have

Should have


Could have
May /
May have /
Might have

Please don’t be confused. Even though most of the Past Tenses of the Modals look like the Present Perfect (Have p.p.), they are perfectly different from each other.

Just remember that these structures:

Must have + p.p.

Would have + p.p.

Should have + p.p.

Could have + p.p.

May have + p.p.

Might have + p.p.

they are all Past Tenses – the Past Tense of Modals – and they are not Present Perfect even though their structure looks the same.

Modal Review

If you want a review on Modals, please check out these other posts:

The Meaning of “Shouldn’t Have”

First, “shouldn’t have.”

Right now let me tell you that “shouldn’t have” is what I call the Modal of Regret.

Do you know what regret is?

Regret is the bad feeling that you have after you make a mistake. You do or say something wrong and you wish that you hadn’t done so. You want to change the result or what happened.


I shouldn’t have watched DVDs late last night. Now I feel sleepy.

I shouldn’t have driven to work. Now I’m stuck in traffic.

I shouldn’t have said all those bad words to my friend. I lost my temper.

As you can see from our examples, “shouldn’t have” is a very useful expression to practice. You can use it to talk about things or actions that you feel sorry or sad about. In your everyday life, there are many situations like these. They don't have to be big and important situations, they are also small and casual ones. 

Moreover, as you say goodbye to the old year, I’m sure there are some decisions or things that you regret.


I shouldn’t have fought with my brother.

I shouldn’t have spent too much (money) on gadgets*.

*cellphone, camera etc.  

I shouldn’t have eaten too much cake.

Be Positive!

Although “shouldn’t have” and the feeling of regret are originally negative, I want you to think positive when you make your example sentences this coming new year. As you welcome year 2013, let your “shouldn’t have” sentences guide you towards making better decisions. In short, learn from your mistakes, move on, and don’t look back. 


Next, “Should Have”

But wait! We’re not finished yet.

There’s another kind of regret that’s not about making a mistake or doing the wrong thing. Instead, this kind of regret is because of not doing anything.

There’s also this kind of bad feeling when you had the chance or good opportunity to do or say something, but you didn’t take it. Maybe because you were shy or afraid or you worried too much.

For many people, this kind of regret is in fact more common.


I should have told him / her about my feelings.

I should have studied English hard when I was in high school.

I should have bought that dress in the mall.

Again, this New Year’s Day, try and make your example sentences with the “should haveModal as well.


I should have stuck to my diet.

I should have quit smoking like Edward.

I should have gone back to school.


Which kind of regret is more common for you? The one caused by mistakes (shouldn’t have) or missed opportunities (should have)?

Whatever regrets you have, now is the right time to evaluate your life, all your past decisions. Look at yourself carefully and know which results happened because of which actions, which situations you are in now because of which choices.

If you do this, you’ll get a big and clear picture of what you want for the next year, and you’ll be able to make a map or a plan that you can follow.

Your regrets (shouldn't have and should have) can make you a stronger and better person.

Happy New Year!!

Keep on learning !

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