Modal Verbs for Suggestion and Advice

Modal verbs are very common and useful in English. We use them to talk about ability, permission, obligation, requests, offers, suggestions and more. To give suggestions and advice we can use the modal verbs ‘could’, ‘should’, ‘ought to’, ‘had better’.

Remember that modal verbs are always followed by a base form of a verb – an infinitive verb without to.


Should’ is used when the speaker wants to make a strong suggestion:

  • The sun is shining bright, so you should wear a cap.
  • You look pale. I don’t think you should go to school today.
  • The road is wet. You shouldn’t drive too fast.

Should + have

We use should have + past participle to talk about things we regret, when we feel sorry about something that happened or did not happen in the past.

  • should have called you sooner.
  • shouldn’t have shouted at her.

Ought to

In more formal situations you can use ‘ought to’ instead of ‘should’, but this modal verb is not used in negative statements and questions:

  • You ought to (should) wear a scarf. It’s very cold outside.
  • They ought to hurry, their train is leaving.
  • Jane ought to visit that castle, it’s great!

Note: Both should’ and ‘ought to’ are used to express advice, obligation or duty.
BUT: We use ‘should’ when we want to express our subjective opinion. In other words, ‘what I think is best for you to do’.

– You should call your mother more often.

Ought to’ is used when we want to express an objective truth. In other words, ‘what is necessary, and cannot be avoided’. That’s why we usually use ‘ought to’ when we are talking about laws, duties and regulations.

– They ought to follow the school’s policy, or they will get expelled.

Had better

If you want to give an important piece of advice, warning or recommendation (that can have a negative consequence if not followed), use ‘had better’:

  • You had better (You’d better) leave for work, it’s 8 o’clock already.
  • We’d better go that way, we’ll save about 10 minutes.
  • He’d better park his car correctly or he will get fined.
Note: Had better is a strong expression. We use it if we think there will be negative results if someone does not do what is desired or suggested.

Here’s how ‘had better‘ relates to other modal verbs with similar meaning:


Could’ is not as strong as ‘should’ and is normally used to give mild advice or to suggest a solution to some problem:

  • – I hate my old jeans!
  • – Well, you could buy a new pair.
  • If they need more space, they could look for a bigger house.
  • Jack moves to Canada next month. He could learn to play hockey there.

Here’s a good video from American English about modal verbs to express advice:

Read more about modal verbs:

Modal Verbs for Possibility

Modal Verbs for Deduction

Modal Verbs for Ability

Modal Verbs: Permission, Requests and Offers

Modal Verbs for Obligations: Statements

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