How to use “could” and “should” correctly

By 20 November 2017 Video lessons 8 Comments

Hey there, and welcome to Speak English with Christina, where you’ll have fun becoming fluent in American English. I’m your English coach Christina, and today’s subject is a special request from Speak English Ambassador Aurélie, who asked “Christina, I always confuse modal verbs, especially “could” and “should.” Can you please explain the difference? Thanks”

Sure, Aurélie, we’ll make these modal verbs easy for you today! Let’s go!

These little confusing bits of English are easy to correct, if you have simple, clear explanations.

For example, in my book “What The Faute”, you’ll get concise explanations and corrections for 32 very common frequent mistakes in English, so you can instantly speak more correct English. It’s easy, short, and available from this page.


Now, let’s look at should & could. The short, quick explanation? Easy!
Should is for 2 things: suggestions and speculation, or prediction.

And that’s a good way to remember it. Should…suggestion, speculation. They all begin with S- For example, You should get a copy of “What The Faute” today! It’s my suggestion to you.

“You should be able to finish the book in just a few hours.” It’s my prediction, that you won’t need 5 days to finish reading the book.

We use “could” in several different situations, but today we’ll only focus on one: future possibility. For example: “If you have a job interview in English, you could join my course Get The Job. It’ll help you succeed!”

It’s possible for you to join the course. It’s an option that you have, basically. You could join the course, or you could prepare alone. But you’ll have more chance to succeed with the course.

Let’s practice!: Should for suggestions

You’re probably already familiar with “should” for suggestions so let’s jump right into practicing it!

Here’s a little exercise for you. I’ll give you 2 problems I often hear from Speak English Ambassadors. Think about the suggestions you could give them, and write them in the comments.

Problem #1: “I don’t have time to learn English. What should I do?” 

Problem #2: “I don’t feel confident when I speak English. What should I do?” 

What are your suggestions for the community? Tell us in the comments, using “should.”

Let’s practice!: Should for speculation

Now this one is a little more nuanced, and maybe you’re not so familiar with it. We’re speculating, we’re predicting.

For example:
“How long does it take to drive from Miami to Atlanta?”  “You should get there in about 10 hours.” We predict that it’ll take about 10 hours.

Another example, a question I hear from coaching clients often:
“Do you think I can improve my English?”
“Well, if you set goals and do English regularly, you should have no problem improving your English.”

Here’s an exercise. I’ll give you a question. Think about the predictions/speculations you can make in your response, using “should.”
And write your answers in the comments.

This is a very important question if you want to progress too!
“How many times will you be able to study English this week?”

What are your prediction in the comments, using “should.”

Let’s practice!: Could for future possibility

Now that you know how many times you can study English this week, you might want some ideas of what to do. Let’s look at the possibilities, with could.

Well, you could learn a new fluency technique with this video, “How to stop translating in your head.” It’s one of my most popular episodes!

Or you could listen to a podcast for learning English, like All Ears English.

You have so many possibilities! And that’s why we used “could” in all those examples! They’re possibilities of things you could do this week, so in the near future.

But how do you know when to use could or should? Good question!

Could or should? Which one?

Sometimes these little nuances are not always simple, but I’ll try my best to make it easy for you to master this one!

Basically, could is just a possibility. You’re not saying it’s good or bad, just a possibility. It’s like options. The first letters of could are C & O, so think of could as “See options” or “Let’s see our options.”

If you want to… I don’t know… practice conversation with Americans, you could find a conversation partner, or you could make friends with some Americans in your city, or you could join a language exchange group. Those are just options.

Should is for suggestions, so it means that you’re advising. If you want to practice conversation, but you don’t have any opportunities in your city, then you should look online. That’s my suggestion to you. I’m advising you.

And if you look online, I predict that you should be able to find someone. I’m speculating, because there are so many language partner websites. So if you really want to find a partner, you should be able to find one. That’s my prediction!

And you should definitely watch this episode:

Now, what about you?

You’ve got some opportunities to practice, so tell us in the comments: What should someone do if they don’t have time for English, or if they don’t feel confident?

For you, how many times can you study English this week? And what are some things you could do?

Tell us all about it, so I can check your answers and you can be sure to practice your English!

Thanks so much for learning English with Speak English with Christina, and I’ll see you next week!

More English lessons...

Click the image to see the lesson

verbes irréguliers anglais
infinitive or ing


Leave a Reply

Get your free email templates now