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I had an English teacher a long time ago who liked using ought to instead of should.
Do you think there is a large difference between these two words?
Is ought to more polite than should?
Is should more commanding?

What is your interpretation of the difference between these two words?
New Member31
If we take the basis meaning of ought and should (just to mention "ought" is a modal verb that does not have the same scope of meanings as "should")

ought

indicates what somebody should do

should

gives a suggestion on what is the right thing for somebody to do

You ought to tell her how you feel.

You can't avoid telling her how you fell

You should tell her how you feel.

It is better or the best to tell her how you fell

I wouldn't say that it is a formal-informal dilemma here.

By telling "ought to" you suggest someone what is one of the last options one has or something that one can't easily avoid, for example, any longer.

By telling "should" you suggest someone that something is good to be done or something that after all is meaningful.

The difference is in importance you give when you say "ought to" or "should". "Ought to" wants to say that you think that it is more important something to be done.

As well, "should" more expresses something than it is explicit. "Ought to" is more explicit, closer to a request than "should".
Full Member409
AperisicIf we take the basis meaning of ought and should (just to mention "ought" is a modal verb that does not have the same scope of meanings as "should")

ought

indicates what somebody should do

This confuses me somewhat. Are you saying that 'ought' and 'should' are the same?
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Palmer (The English Verb) distinguishes three uses of should.

1. to lay a tentative obligation
You should come to the party tomorrow.
2. to express a probability
They should be at their destination by now.
3. 'evaluative' should
It's strange that he should say such a thing.

He makes the following observations:

In the first meaning, ought to and should are completely interchangeable:
You ought to come to the party tomorrow.
In the second, ought to is theoretically possible, but is rarely used with this meannig.
? They ought to be at their destination by now.
In the third, ought to is not used.
* It's strange that he ought to say such a thing.

From what I have observed informally, in the U.S. ought to is much less used than should, even in the cases where the two are equivalent. Sometimes, to some people, it has the air of being somewhat scholarly. Sometimes, to some people, it seems to be weaker, gentler, or less direct than should.

CJ
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ought

indicates what somebody should do

This confuses me somewhat. Are you saying that 'ought' and 'should' are the same?

The answer is in word "indicates".

"Ought to" has the same intention as "should", that is to suggest something, but "ought to" says that you think that a person should pay more attention to your suggestion to give more importance to it.

"Ought to" is more specific than "should", more forcible.

Their meaning both point to the same direction, the basic difference is in the degree of expressiveness.

"ought to" is far closer to "there is nothing else/better to do but/except to" than "should"

(However there are several usages of "ought to" that are not the same as "should', I am talking here only about the part where they are similar in meaning.)

So, yes, we could say that there are situations when "ought to" and "should" mean almost the same, but the intention of a speaker or writer is different: to indicate a solution or to give a suggestion, respectively.
The difference between "ought to" and "should", when they mean "giving a suggestion", is better understood when you examine expressions and examples.

For example if I like a cake very much and I want to suggest someone to try it I would say: "You ought to try this cake." In this case if we use "You should try this cake", it says not much about how strong I liked it.

If someone is leaving the house after the diner, a polite way to invite him again is

"You ought to visit us again." In this case if we use "You should visit us again", it does not give that strong expectation. With "you ought to visit us again" you compliment to the person that has visited you far more than with "you should visit us again".

"ought to" is sometimes a synonym to "cannot avoid". "should" is almost never a synonym to "cannot avoid".

"That ought to be easy." expresses the expectations that might not be true. For example, you tried to solve a problem, but it just doesn't go the way you want. "That should be easy" contains far less negative feelings. (In this case "That ought to be easy." is almost equal to "That should've been easy")

With correct usage, both "should" and "ought to" have their very precise places in modern English. What makes confusion is that people are using them carelessly, as is the case with other expressions or verbs in English.

With "ought to" instead of "should", you can make your thought more precise, but you can as well make someone puzzled why you have used "ought to" at all. If someone cannot feel the difference between "ought to" and "should", it is safe to always use "should". Actually, people or learner of English tend to do so, thus it looks that "ought to" is rare. It is not rare, it only has a more specific usage than "should".

"Ought to" almost always holds a strong warning about the consequences, or emphasizes good features of consequences if it is something positive.
I'm glad to see your long response and thoughts on this. My interpretation of "ought to" has been equated with "might want to." Were I to go into a homeless shelter, one may question if "ought to" or "should" is more polite than the other. Of course, a person would be daring to use either one. However, ought to might be more sincere since its meaning can change to the context of a situation. In other words, depending on how and where someone uses "ought to" its meaning can change. Yet "should" is more definite than "ought to." It seems like should is set in stone and has not evolved or changed much of its shape.

I'm going to assume "ought to" is one of those phrases that depends on the context more than should does.
(In this case "That ought to be easy." is almost equal to "That should've been easy") - Aperisi
The only problem I have with that line is this: "That ought to have been easy."
Ghost Writer
(In this case "That ought to be easy." is almost equal to "That should've been easy") - Aperisi
The only problem I have with that line is this: "That ought to have been easy."

Excellent point. Suppose you and I discuss a problem. We find it very difficult, but we know it has to be easy. You say: "That ought to be easy" what means that you are almost sure that it is easy, but for some reason we can't solve it that way.

If you use "ought to" in this context this way it means that though we can't still solve the problem it does not mean that it is not simple.

"should have been easy" means we believed that it was easy but obviously it is not

and

"ought to have been easy" means we believed that it was easy but obviously it is not [because we messed something up at start, for example, in the definition of the problem or a solution] and now we are not ready to face the grave consequences

"ought to be easy" hides more hope than "ought to have been easy". "ought to have been easy" has no hope any more.

The difference is slim, I agree.

Unfortunately only by examining these usages of "ought to" you can feel the difference, and with the right tone of your voice use it appropriately. As I said the main difference is in importance that you give to your statement. "ought to" gives more importance than "should"

To illustrate this more I'll compare

"should be dead"

and

"ought to be dead"

"should be dead" expresses an expectation that someone is probably dead by now regarding the conditions implied or expressed, but you do not have a proof yet

"ought to be dead" is almost impossible and because of that it is used only to express the great surprise or a limiting case, for example when you want to say that by law or physical causality someone must be dead (but you are so surprised that he is not or you start giving the reasons why it is not as it seems) or you see a ghost and you tell him or her "but, you ought to be dead", this last is actually used from the Shakespeare's time. "ought to be dead" means "there is nothing else except to be dead"

The trouble with merging "ought to" and "be dead" is that both are restrictive to the extreme. "Ought to" here requires the subsequent fact to be very close to a true statement, but then if someone is really dead whom you are talking to. Thus "you ought to be dead" is at the edge of an absurd, but that can be used effectively in writing as well.
While I might be a few months late in posting, I did happen to read something today that made the word "ought" much clearer in meaning.

"Ought" was at one point Emotion: it wasnt me the past tense verb of "owe". Owing being that a debt is due, you are under an obligation to pay, saying (echoing previous posts) it is unavoidable and even carrying the weight that a repercussion would follow if avoided or dealt with wrongly.
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