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Can vs. Should: What's the Difference?

Edited by Huma Saeed || By Sawaira Riaz || Published on December 14, 2023
"Can" refers to the ability or capacity to do something, while "should" implies an obligation, recommendation, or appropriateness in doing something.

Key Differences

"Can" is used to express ability, possibility, or permission, focusing on what is feasible or allowed. "Should" is employed to advise, recommend, or suggest what is considered right, proper, or advisable.
Sawaira Riaz
Dec 14, 2023
Both "can" and "should" are modal verbs in English. "Can" indicates potential or capability, while "should" conveys an expectation or recommendation.
Sawaira Riaz
Dec 14, 2023
Using "can" does not imply any moral or ethical judgment, it simply states a fact about capability or permission. "Should," however, often carries a moral or ethical weight, suggesting what is desirable or expected.
Huma Saeed
Dec 14, 2023
In various contexts, "can" is neutral, addressing the practicality or possibility of an action. "Should" is more subjective, dealing with what is considered appropriate or advisable in a given situation.
Janet White
Dec 14, 2023
The meaning of "can" remains consistent, relating to ability or permission, whereas "should" can vary, sometimes indicating a probable event (e.g., "It should rain tomorrow").
Aimie Carlson
Dec 14, 2023
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Comparison Chart

Primary Usage

Ability, possibility, permission
Obligation, recommendation, advisability
Sawaira Riaz
Dec 14, 2023

Grammatical Role

Modal verb for capability/permission
Modal verb for advisability/expectation
Sawaira Riaz
Dec 14, 2023

Connotative Meaning

Neutral, factual
Often carries ethical or moral implications
Sawaira Riaz
Dec 14, 2023

Contextual Application

Practicality or possibility
Appropriateness or advisability
Aimie Carlson
Dec 14, 2023

Variation in Meaning

Generally consistent
Can indicate likelihood or probability
Sawaira Riaz
Dec 14, 2023
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Can and Should Definitions

Can

Requesting or granting permission.
Can I leave early today?
Aimie Carlson
Nov 22, 2023

Should

Expressing expectation or likelihood.
He should arrive by noon.
Sawaira Riaz
Nov 22, 2023

Can

Indicating possibility or occurrence.
Anything can happen in this city.
Harlon Moss
Nov 22, 2023

Should

Suggesting a recommendation or advice.
You should try the new restaurant.
Harlon Moss
Nov 22, 2023

Can

Signifying physical or mental capacity.
He can lift heavy weights easily.
Janet White
Nov 22, 2023

Should

Indicating obligation or duty.
You should apologize for your mistake.
Huma Saeed
Nov 22, 2023

Can

Used in questions to offer or request.
Can I help you with that?
Aimie Carlson
Nov 22, 2023

Should

Used to consider a possible future action.
Should I start a new project?
Aimie Carlson
Nov 22, 2023

Can

Expressing the ability to do something.
I can speak three languages.
Sawaira Riaz
Nov 22, 2023

Should

Indicating a condition for a possible outcome.
Should it rain, the event will be indoors.
Harlon Moss
Nov 22, 2023

Can

A usually cylindrical metal container.
Sawaira Riaz
Nov 19, 2023

Should

(auxiliary) Ought to; indicating opinion, advice, or instruction, about what is required or desirable.
Sawaira Riaz
Nov 19, 2023

Can

An airtight container, usually made of tin-coated iron, in which foods or beverages are preserved.
Sawaira Riaz
Nov 19, 2023

Should

Used to issue an instruction (traditionally seen as carrying less force of authority than alternatives such as 'shall' or 'must').
You should never drink and drive.
The law is clear that you should always wear a seat belt.
The manual says that this switch should be in the 'off' position.
Sawaira Riaz
Nov 19, 2023

FAQs

Is 'should' a strong recommendation?

It often is, but can also be a mild suggestion.
Harlon Moss
Dec 14, 2023

Does 'can' require a specific context?

It depends on the situation but is generally versatile.
Sawaira Riaz
Dec 14, 2023

Does 'can' imply moral obligation?

No, it's neutral regarding morality or ethics.
Harlon Moss
Dec 14, 2023

What does 'should' imply?

Suggests obligation, advisability, or likelihood.
Huma Saeed
Dec 14, 2023

Can 'can' express certainty?

No, it typically indicates ability or possibility, not certainty.
Sawaira Riaz
Dec 14, 2023

Can 'should' indicate a probable event?

Yes, it can suggest something is likely to happen.
Janet White
Dec 14, 2023

Can 'can' be used in questions?

Yes, especially for requests or offers.
Janet White
Dec 14, 2023

Can 'can' indicate permission in the past tense?

'Could' is used for past permission.
Sawaira Riaz
Dec 14, 2023

What does 'can' imply?

Indicates ability, possibility, or permission.
Sawaira Riaz
Dec 14, 2023

Are 'can' and 'should' interchangeable?

No, they serve different grammatical and contextual purposes.
Janet White
Dec 14, 2023

Is 'should' used in formal contexts?

Yes, it's common in both formal and informal contexts.
Aimie Carlson
Dec 14, 2023

Is 'should' used for giving advice?

Yes, it's commonly used for recommendations or advice.
Sawaira Riaz
Dec 14, 2023

How does 'should' express expectation?

By indicating what is likely or anticipated to happen.
Aimie Carlson
Dec 14, 2023

Does 'can' have a past tense form?

Yes, 'could' is the past tense of 'can.'
Janet White
Dec 14, 2023

Is 'should' subjective or objective?

It's often subjective, depending on the speaker's perspective.
Sawaira Riaz
Dec 14, 2023

What's a common mistake with 'can' and 'should'?

Confusing their usage regarding ability vs. advisability.
Janet White
Dec 14, 2023

Are there exceptions to using 'can'?

Usage may vary in idiomatic expressions or informal speech.
Harlon Moss
Dec 14, 2023

Can 'should' be used conditionally?

Yes, often in conditional sentences to imply a prerequisite.
Sawaira Riaz
Dec 14, 2023

Can 'can' be used to express future ability?

Yes, in contexts implying future capability.
Harlon Moss
Dec 14, 2023

How does context affect 'should'?

The context can change its degree of recommendation or expectation.
Harlon Moss
Dec 14, 2023
About Author
Written by
Sawaira Riaz
Sawaira is a dedicated content editor at difference.wiki, where she meticulously refines articles to ensure clarity and accuracy. With a keen eye for detail, she upholds the site's commitment to delivering insightful and precise content.
Edited by
Huma Saeed
Huma is a renowned researcher acclaimed for her innovative work in Difference Wiki. Her dedication has led to key breakthroughs, establishing her prominence in academia. Her contributions continually inspire and guide her field.

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