The difference between
"can", "could", "might", "should" and "ought"

by Wily

What is the difference between can, could, might should, and ought? The difference depends on the context and situation. I will try to give you a very general idea, regarding the difference in meaning.

Can: is used when asking or giving permission for someone to do something. Can you hold my bag for me? It focuses on ability for something to be done.

Could: is very similar to can and can be used in most cases but it has a slightly different meaning or sense to it. “Could” refers to something that is not always possible. For example, If you ask someone "Can you lend me $20?" You are focusing on their ability to lend you the money. If you replace can for could and ask "Could you lend me $20?" It makes us think or feel like it is less likely to happen.

Might: is often used to talk about the chance (or possibility) that something will happen or is happening. "You might not understand everything that I write in English but I hope so".

Should: is dealing with obligation and deduction. When it is right to do something we say, you should do it. "We should drink lots of water and eat lots of fruit". In terms of deduction we can use should when we assume something according to what we know. If my Mum went out an hour ago, I might deduce that she should be home soon.

Ought: is used the same way as should, but it is less popular in American English. In Canada, for example, we usually use "should".

I hope that answers your question. You should try to used those words in context to get more comfortable using the words. You can email me again if you need more help.

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Comments for The difference between
"can", "could", "might", "should" and "ought"

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Jul 13, 2012
Its nice article
by: Manikandan.Mjs

Hi, Thanks to you. I know about usage of can, could, should but I was confused while using might. Now i understand the usage of the word might.

Jan 09, 2012
Ought to VS Should
by: Anonymous

"Should" is not based on certainty but on likelihood or advice.

You should specialise in cardiology (i.e. it is not necessary for you to specialise in it, but you'd be good at it)

You ought to go to cardiology (i.e. your illness is such that the suggestion is not only a good idea but a scientically proven statement)

Consider also:

"The law in some countries dictates that all people ought to wear seatbelts when driving, but some dispute that they should have to."

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