Suggestions and obligations

Level: beginner


We use should and shouldn't to make suggestions and give advice:

You should send an email.
You shouldn’t go by train.

We also use could to make positive suggestions:

We could meet at the weekend.
You could eat out tonight.

Level: intermediate

We can use conditionals to give advice:

Dan will help you if you ask him.

Past tenses are more polite:

Dan would help you if you asked him.

Suggestions 1


Suggestions 2


Level: beginner


We use must or need to to say that it is necessary to do something:

You must stop at a red light.
Everyone needs to bring something to eat.
You can wear what you like, but you must look neat and tidy.

We use mustn't for prohibitions – to say that it is necessary to not do something:

You mustn't make any noise in the library.
You mustn't say anything to her. It's a surprise.

We use had to (positive) and couldn't (negative) if we are talking about the past:

Everyone had to bring something to eat.
You couldn't make any noise in the library.

Obligations 1


Obligations 2



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Soumis par HieuNT le mar 18/01/2022 - 19:42


Hello, British Council Team,

In famous grammar books or online dictionaries, I didn't see any reference to the use of of "should not" after "suggest".

However, I've seen this structure widely used in this way.

E.g.: "What we won't see, however, is politicians suggesting that we shouldn't have a National Health Service."


My question is: Is this phenomenon considered "Standard English", or it's just the same case as double/multiple negatives which is acceptable in informal contexts only because they are commonly used but are inappropriate in more formal contexts?

Should I use "should not" this way or should I stick to the subjunctive (not + infinitives) when it come to negative suggesting sentences?

Thank you, and I hope to hear from you soon.
Hieu Nguyen

Hello Hieu Nguyen,

You're correct that we don't use suggest + should (not). Suggest can be followed by a that-clause which includes 'should', however, and this is what your sentence is an example of:
> She suggested that we shouldn't have a National Health Service.

Other modal verbs can be used:
> She suggested that we couldn't have a National Health Service unless we raised taxes.
> She suggested that we mightn't have a National Health Service in the future.

A verb-ing form is also possible and is used when making a proposal:
> She suggested not having a National Health Service. Instead, ...

And, as you say, the subjunctive form is also an option, though it tends to be used in more formal contexts:
> She suggested that we not have a National Health Service.

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Mr. Peter,

Thank you for your explanation.
However, I believe the way I put my ideas was not clear.

I know that "suggest" cannot be followed directly by "should (not)", as in:
>She suggested shouldn't have a National Health Service.

What I was asking is, is it standard English to use "should (not)" in "suggest + that clause" or is it a habitual use (like double negatives) which then become acceptable in informal contexts, as in:
> She suggested that we shouldn't have a National Health Service.

Hieu Nguyen

Hello again Hieu Nguyen,

It's fine to use 'should not' like this. Your example is perfectly correct and in no way non-standard.

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you for your clarification, Mr. Pete.

Normally, I would only use "should not" after "suggest" to mean "show" or "express", as in:
> The result suggests that we shouldn't...

Now, I think I'll start using "should not" after "suggest" when I make a recommendation or give someone else advice in some case without worrying too much.