Difference Wiki

Shall vs. Should: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Harlon Moss || Published on December 13, 2023
"Shall" implies obligation or certainty, often used in formal or legal contexts; "should" suggests advice or recommendation, reflecting a less mandatory tone.

Key Differences

"Shall" is traditionally used to express a strong assertion or intention, especially in formal writing and legal documents. "Should", conversely, is used to imply obligation or advice but with a tone of recommendation rather than command.
In legal contexts, "shall" is often used to indicate mandatory actions or requirements. "Should" is more commonly used in everyday language to suggest what is appropriate or advisable.
"Shall" has a definitive and sometimes imperative connotation, implying a certain future action. "Should" implies a conditional action, often based on judgment or circumstance.
The use of "shall" is more prevalent in British English and formal American legal language, indicating a requirement. "Should" is widely used in American English to suggest expectations or potential actions.
In questions, "shall" can be used to offer or seek a decision, especially in British English. In contrast, "should" in questions often seeks advice or opinion.

Comparison Chart


Formal, obligatory
Advisory, recommendatory

Usage in Legal Context

Indicates mandatory or required actions
Suggests advisable actions


Imperative, decisive
Suggestive, less forceful

Common Usage

Formal documents, contracts, offers
Everyday language, advice, conditional statements

Question Form

Offers or seeks decision (e.g., "Shall we?")
Seeks advice or opinion (e.g., "Should we?")

Shall and Should Definitions


Indicates future action or intention.
I shall attend the meeting tomorrow.


Used to express what is probable.
The project should be completed by next week.


Used to express a command or obligation.
You shall not pass.


Expresses advice or recommendation.
You should check the report for errors.


Used for strong assertions or promises.
We shall overcome this challenge.


Indicates a desirable or expected action.
You should apologize for your mistake.


Formal way to offer or ask for advice.
Shall we begin the presentation?


Implies a condition or possibility.
Should it rain, we will cancel the picnic.


In legal terms, denotes a mandatory action.
The tenant shall pay rent on the first of each month.


Suggests obligation or duty.
You should respect your elders.


Used before a verb to indicate the simple future tense in the first person singular or plural.
I shall sing in the choir tomorrow.
I hope that we shall win the game.


(auxiliary) Ought to; indicating opinion, advice, or instruction, about what is required or desirable.


Used similarly to indicate determination or obligation in the second and third persons singular or plural.
(determination): You shall go to the ball!
(obligation): Citizens shall provide proof of identity.


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.


Used in questions with the first person singular or plural to suggest a possible future action.
Shall I help you with that?
Shall we go out later?
Let us examine that, shall we?


(obsolete) To owe.


To owe; to be under obligation for.


To be obliged; must.


When is "should" used?

For advice or recommendations.

Are "shall" and "should" interchangeable?

Not usually, due to different levels of forcefulness.

What does "shall" imply?

Obligation or firm intention.

Can "shall" be used in questions?

Yes, often to propose or seek a decision.

How is "shall" used in contracts?

To state obligations or requirements.

Can "should" express probability?

Yes, it can suggest likelihood.

Is "should" used in legal documents?

Rarely, as it's less definitive than "shall."

Is "shall" commonly used in modern language?

Less so, mainly in formal or legal contexts.

Does "shall" indicate a future action?

Yes, it often refers to future intentions or actions.

Can "should" indicate a moral obligation?

Yes, it can imply moral duty.

Do "shall" and "should" have different legal implications?

Yes, "shall" is often binding, while "should" is advisory.

Does "should" imply less certainty than "shall"?

Yes, it's less assertive and more suggestive.

Is "shall" definitive in nature?

Generally, yes, especially in legal or formal contexts.

Is "should" appropriate for giving advice?

Yes, it's commonly used for recommendations.

Can "shall" be used to express a promise?

Yes, it can indicate a strong commitment.

Does "should" allow for flexibility?

Yes, it often suggests a preferred but not mandatory action.

Are there regional preferences for "shall" or "should"?

"Shall" is more common in British English; "should" is widely used in American English.

Can "shall" suggest an offer?

Yes, especially in questions like "Shall we go?"

Does "should" imply consequences for not following?

Not necessarily; it's less about consequences and more about advisability.

Is "shall" more formal than "should"?

Yes, it's considered more formal.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

Trending Comparisons

Popular Comparisons

New Comparisons