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MODAL VERBS AND THEIR SUBSTITUTES, part 1 OUGHT TO



Meaning the same as its cousin "should", "ought to" is probably the least popular modal verb in the classroom. Teachers just don’t waste their valuable time on it and either tend to ignore it completely or mention it cursorily when teaching "should".

"She ought to try a little harder."

Is it still used in modern English though? Yes, it is. Quite a bit, in fact, all the time in all registers. The naked truth is:

1. Its usage has been in a slow but steady decline. 
2. In general "should" is much more common than "ought to."
3. Neither of the first two points mean that "ought to" is rare, odd, improper, extinct, obsolete or abnormal.

OUGHT TO is used to:

1. express something that is the right thing to do or sociably acceptable, correct, polite, etc. It often emphasizes that you want things to be the way they are not now.

"He ought to be punished."
"We ought to work harder than that."

2. offer or ask for advice or recommendations.

"You ought to wear a raincoat."

3. express recommendations and predictions based on normal circumstances or logic; what is fairly likely or expected.

"According to the forecast, it ought to be warm tomorrow."

4. express a wish or desire.

"You ought to see that movie. It's awesome!"
"You ought to have been there; it was great fun."

Most usage guides agree that it is not as forceful as "must" or "had better", but stronger, and more formal than "should." Although, normally "ought to" means the same as "should" some sources say there is a slight difference as "ought to" is more often used to express an objective truth, while "should" more often expresses a subjective opinion.

"Every citizen ought to help."
"You should call your mom more often."

"Ought to" can be quite formal but it can also be quite informal sometimes.

"Ought we be placing our filthy feet on the davenport, young man?" (very formal)
"Ya think that's somethin', do ya? Ya oughta see my ol' lady!" (very informal)

The subject and "ought to" change position to form questions.

"Ought she to call the police?"
"Oughtn't the water to have boiled by now?"

The negative is OUGHT NOT TO/OUGHTN'T TO 

"We ought not to have ordered so much food."
"You oughtn’t to have said that about his mother."

In AmE "to" in the negative form is almost always omitted if used at all. It's also sometimes omitted in questions. 

"She ought not take such risks while skiing."
"Ought you do that again and again?"

The question and negative forms are becoming increasingly rare. "Should" and "shouldn't" are usually used instead. "Should" is also normally used as a tag for clauses with "ought to".

"There ought to be a speed limit here, shouldn’t there?"
"We ought not to have to pay for basic medicines, should we?"

There is no past tense but "ought to have + Past Participle" is used to talk about things that were desired or ideal in the past but which didn't happen. It can also express criticism or regret.

"We ought to have locked the gate. Then the dog wouldn't have got out." (but we didn’t)
"I often think that I ought to have studied medicine not pharmacy." (I would be happier now if I had studied medicine)

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