“Should I” vs. “Shall I” - Difference Explained (Helpful Examples) (2023)

“Shall I” and “should I” are fairly similar in English. We can use them somewhat interchangeably, but it’s important to know the subtle differences between the two. This article will look at how to use them and provide examples to help you understand them better.

What Is The Difference Between “Should I” And “Shall I”?

You should use “should I” when making a request, but you’re not necessarily happy with the expected response of completing that request. You should use “shall I” when making an offer, and generally, you’re happy to carry out the action or offer.

“Should I” vs. “Shall I” - Difference Explained (Helpful Examples) (1)

The definition of “shall,” according to The Cambridge Dictionary, is “used, with “I” or “we,” to make a suggestion.”

The definition of “should,” according to The Cambridge Dictionary, is “used to say or ask what is the correct or best thing to do.”

Both phrases are interchangeable. We can use “shall” or “should” no matter whether we’re making an offer or request. However, there are a few subtle differences that some native speakers might pick up on.

“Shall I” is an offer. We use it to ask whether we should complete something, often already accepting that we should do it. When someone says “yes,” we expect it, and we’re happy to do whatever it is that we offer.

“Should I” is an offer. Generally, we’re hoping that the answer won’t be “yes,” as we’re not as keen on completing the request, even if it’s the more obvious course of action for the given situation.

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Is “Should I” Or “Shall I” Used The Most?

The phrases are very similar, and we can use them interchangeably if we need to. Most native speakers won’t mind whichever form you use. However, we can go further and look at some statistics of them both so that you can see which is more popular.

According to this graph, “should I” is more popular, but only slightly. Both phrases are used, though they are both much less popular than they were two centuries ago.

“Should I” vs. “Shall I” - Difference Explained (Helpful Examples) (2)

“Should” and “shall” are polite and formal options in English. For that reason, many native speakers today stay away from using them because they feel archaic and outdated.

Generally, we’d use something like “can I” or “do I,” as both of those verbs are easier to read and write, and everyone understands what the meanings are without much overlap.

Examples Of How To Use “Should I” In A Sentence

Let’s look at using “should I” in a few sentences. As we’ve mentioned, it is synonymous with “shall I,” but the implication is that we’re not keen on completing whatever the request is that we’re making.

“Should I” makes a request, and often we’re not happy about completing that request for one reason or another.

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  1. Should I do something to help him?
  2. Should I make your life easier by calling them for you?
  3. Should I say something, or do you think he’ll get over it?
  4. Should I make him a cup of tea when he arrives?
  5. Should I bite my tongue, even when they insult my family?
  6. Should I tell him that he has to leave?
  7. Should I stop him from doing that again?
  8. Should I leave him here or take him with me?
  9. Should I visit my mother in the hospital later today?
  10. Should I go with her to see his ashes?

As you can see, “should I” asks a question that we’re often not fond of asking. Whether it’s something we don’t want to do or something that we need to clarify before doing it, “should I” is a request that we’re not entirely sure how to sort out or complete.

Usually, we’d expect someone to say “yes” or “no” when we ask a question with “should I.” Typically, we’re hoping for the negative “no,” so that we don’t have to do whatever the undesirable task is.

However, we often hear “yes” and have to carry out the task more often than not. Often, we’ll understand that the answer is “yes,” even though we don’t want to believe it ourselves.

Examples Of How To Use “Shall I” In A Sentence

“Shall I” is synonymous with “should I,” but there are a few differences in how we might write it.

“Shall I” is an offer. We already accept that we’ll have to carry out the task, and we often don’t mind doing so.

  1. Shall I help you with your bags, dear?
  2. Shall I call the police, or are you going to stop?
  3. Shall I catch up with you later today?
  4. Shall I do anything to stop this mayhem?
  5. Shall I carry your items out for you?
  6. Shall I reward him for his fine work?
  7. Shall I make myself at home in your place of work?
  8. Shall I stop by when I’m around later?
  9. Shall I see whether they’ve got candy in the cupboards?
  10. Shall I pay you now or later?

“Shall I” is an offer we make, even though we already expect the answer to be “yes.” It always asks a question since “shall” comes before the pronoun.” When we ask this question, we’re hoping for a “yes,” and we’re already leaning towards the positive side of it.

Sometimes, you might be a question of “shall I” with “no.” While it’s rare, it’s best if you take it in your stride and move on rather than pressuring the answerer to figure out why they declined your offer.

Are “Can I” And “May I” Interchangeable With “Should I” Or “Shall I”?

Generally, the verb that comes before the pronoun isn’t what’s most important here. What’s most important is whether they’re interchangeable and have the same meaning.

According to this graph, “can I” is the most popular verb to use to make a request or offer of some kind. “May I” is also used, but it’s about as popular as “shall I.”

“Should I” vs. “Shall I” - Difference Explained (Helpful Examples) (3)

“Can I” is interchangeable with “should I” and “shall I.” It works well to make a request or an offer, depending on whether or not you want to complete the task you’re offering. “May I” is more polite than the other three, but it only makes a request and is synonymous with “should I.”

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  • Can I offer you help with your bags?
  • Can I see whether he’s okay with this?
  • Can I do anything to help?
  • May I offer you some assistance?
  • May I help in any way?
  • May I kindly ask you to move along?

Neither of the phrases is identical to what “should I” or “shall I” offer, but we can use them interchangeably in certain scenarios. It mostly depends on the kind of request you’re making.

For example:

  • Shall I call the police?
  • Can I call the police?
  • May I call the police?

Here, “shall” is the most appropriate, and “can” and “may” don’t work very well (unless you’re specifically asking for permission to do so).

  • Shall I help you?
  • Can I help you?
  • May I help you?

For these examples, all of the verbs are synonymous. You can use whichever one you want to offer your help to somebody.

Can “Do I” Be Used Interchangeable With “Should I”?

“Do I” and “should I” are not interchangeable. “Should I” is making a request as to whether we should do something. “Do I” is asking for validation of whether something is the correct thing to do.

Typically, “should I” is used even when we know what we’re supposed to do. If we’re not happy with doing the thing we’re asking, we might use “should I” in the hope that someone might say “no” and prevent us from doing it.

  • Should I call the police?
  • Should I really be here?

However, “do I” is asking for validation. We’re unsure about the outcome of our actions, and we want someone to help us understand whether it’s smart to do the thing we’re asking for before we do it.

  • Do I have to help?
  • Do I call the police now?

Is It “When Should I Come” Or “When Shall I Come”?

We use “when should I come” when we’re asking for a time to meet with an event that’s already confirmed. We’re trying to narrow down the time frame that we might already have. We use “when shall I come” when we haven’t been given a time frame yet.

For example, if a party is set for seven p.m. and you know this, you might ask the host:

  • When should I come tonight?
  • Maybe eight o’clock?

We’re asking for the time again, even though we already know it. This works well for parties because no one tends to arrive on time.

(Video) Shall Vs Should I Shall Should का सही Use I Modals in English Grammar IN Hindi I Practice Exercise

With “shall,” we might not have heard the time already, so we’re simply asking for the time:

  • When shall I come?
  • Anytime now works well!

How do you use “Shall I say”?

You use “shall I say” when you’re making an offer to say something for somebody else. “Shall” is used to offer a service or action to somebody, and it’s up to them whether they want to agree to you doing that action (in this case, “saying” something).

  • Shall I say the thing that you wanted to say?

“Should I” vs. “Shall I” - Difference Explained (Helpful Examples) (4)

Martin Lassen

Martin holds a Master’s degree in Finance and International Business. He has six years of experience in professional communication with clients, executives, and colleagues. Furthermore, he has teaching experience from Aarhus University. Martin has been featured as an expert in communication and teaching on Forbes and Shopify. Read more about Martin here.

(Video) Modal Verbs: Shall & Should

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  3. 11 Better Ways To Say “When Is A Good Time”


Should I or shall I Examples? ›

Examples of shall and should used in a sentence

You really should avoid going near that hornet's nest. If it should rain tomorrow, the guests can eat inside. Shall we tell him which box we think he should open?

Is there a difference between shall and should? ›

The word shall is used to show certainty of intention about an action that will happen in the future. The word should is used to express uncertainty and to give suggestions or advice. Shall is used more in formal writing, like legal documents. Should is used in common conversation and writing.

When we use shall with examples? ›

Shall is often used to express intent or determination as in I shall go to the store or She shall become the next queen. The differences are subtle, but what is important to note is that both will and shall are used with all verbs to form the future tense.

Should I vs shall I? ›

The word 'shall' is used to show strong intention/assertion about an action that will happen in the future. 'Shall' is used more in formal writing than 'should'. The word 'should' is used to give suggestions/advice. It's also used when one is talking about probable situations.

Should I send you or shall I send you? ›

A complete search of the internet has found these results: shall i send is the most popular phrase on the web. More popular!

What are the five examples of shall? ›

Shall: forms
  • I shall post it to you tomorrow.
  • I shall have to be at the airport by 5 pm.
  • We shall have to tell him what happened.
  • The good news is I shall be able to join you at your meeting next week.

What are the three forms of shall? ›

auxiliary verb, present singular 1st person shall,2nd shall or (Archaic) shalt,3rd shall,present plural shall;past singular 1st person should,2nd should or (Archaic) shouldst or should·est,3rd should,past plural should;imperative, infinitive, and participles lacking. plan to, intend to, or expect to: I shall go later.

What are shall statements? ›

Shall – Requirement: Shall is used to indicate a requirement that is contractually binding, meaning it must be implemented, and its implementation verified.

When should we not use shall? ›

Will and shall: form. Will and shall are modal verbs. They are used with the base form of the main verb (They will go; I shall ask her). Shall is only used for future time reference with I and we, and is more formal than will.

Why shall is not used? ›

Shall is, however, still widely used in bureaucratic documents, especially documents written by lawyers. Owing to heavy misuse, its meaning can be ambiguous and the United States government's Plain Language group advises writers not to use the word at all.

How do we use should? ›

'Should' can be used:
  1. To express something that is probable. Examples: “John should be here by 2:00 PM.” “He should be bringing Jennifer with him.
  2. To ask questions. Examples: “Should we turn left at this street?” ...
  3. To show obligation, give recommendation or even an opinion. Examples: “You should stop eating fast food.”

What does shall mean in grammar? ›

modal verb. You use shall to indicate that something must happen, usually because of a rule or law. You use shall not to indicate that something must not happen.

How do you answer a question with shall? ›

Short answer: Yeah. Full answer: Yes I will. Shall I help you? Yes you shall.

Shall I call or should I call? ›

“Should I" is asking for an opinion or advice to call you, “can I" (may I, might I) is asking your permission, and “shall I" is checking whether or not the other person is agreeing to the call as you do or not.

Do Americans use shall I? ›

In American English, shall is unusual and will is normally used. In British English, shall I/we is often used to ask for advice or an opinion, e.g. Shall we ask him to come with us? In American English, should is often used instead of shall, e.g.

Why should I means? ›

used for rudely refusing to do what someone has just asked you to do. 'Tell us what Digby said. ' 'Why should I? ' Synonyms and related words.

Can I or shall I or may I? ›

Is one of these two sentences more correct than the other? Well, actually, in modern English they are both considered acceptable. May is a preferred in a formal style or when you want to be more polite. In less formal situations, can is perfectly acceptable.

Can I or shall I Meaning? ›

“Can” describes something you are able to do, while “shall” defines something you intend to do.

How do you say please let me know professionally? ›

Please let me know if you have any questions.” “If you have any other problems, just let me know.” “If there is anything else you need, please let me know.”

What is the negative form of shall? ›

The negative form shall not can be shortened in conversation or informal writing to shan't. Shall has no participles and no infinitive form.

What can be used in place of shall? ›

Correct Use
  • Although shall is suitable in British English, it should be avoided in American English.
  • Instead, replace shall with should or will, depending on the context.

What is the strong form of shall? ›

orthographystrong form(s)weak form(s)
shallʃalʃəl, ʃl, l
mustmʌstməs, məst
doduːdə, d
12 more rows
Jan 17, 2013

Why is shall used? ›

If you want to make an offer or suggestion with I/we, use 'shall' in the question form. For very formal statements, especially to describe obligations, use 'shall'. Now you've seen the differences between 'will' and 'shall', you're ready to use them.

Is should a past tense? ›

Should' is the past tense of the word 'shall. ' When using the words 'should have' you are talking about something in the past that you 'ought to' or 'might have' done.

Is shall a past tense? ›

'Should' is the past tense form of 'shall', but these words are used differently. Read on to know more about 'shall' and 'should'. SHALL: 'Shall' is a modal verb, which is used instead of 'will' with first and third person singular forms ('I' and 'we') in formal contexts.

Is shall a mandatory? ›

Shall is an imperative command, usually indicating that certain actions are mandatory, and not permissive. This contrasts with the word “may,” which is generally used to indicate a permissive provision, ordinarily implying some degree of discretion.

When to say should? ›

Should is used to say that something is the proper or best thing to do, or to say that someone ought to do something or must do something. Adam could visit us on Monday. This tells us that it is possible Adam will visit on Monday, maybe he can visit us, but maybe he has other options, too.

What do you mean by should? ›

past tense of shall. [modal verb] 1. a — used to say or suggest that something is the proper, reasonable, or best thing to do.

How do you avoid using should? ›

Instead of telling yourself I “should” be doing more of something, try to focus on why you want to do that particular thing. For example, instead of saying “I should go do yoga,” remind yourself of why you want to do yoga: “It makes me feel great.” “I enjoy feeling myself relax when I do yoga.”

What is the present tense of should? ›

We can certainly use 'should' in the present tense. We must not forget to use the base form of the main verb along with the modal auxiliary verb to state the respective tense form.

Shall I question examples? ›

Shall is often used in questions in the first person singular and plural when making suggestions, making an offer or asking for advice: 'Shall we go out for dinner tonight?' 'Shall I get more tomato juice when I'm at the supermarket?' 'What shall we do now?

Shall and should exercises with answers? ›

Shall / should 1
  • - You. shall. should. be more friendly.
  • - Shall. Should. I play here?
  • - My car. shall. should. be over there.
  • - Should. Shall. I ask you a question?
  • - Shall. Should. we eat these grapes?
  • - Everybody. should. shall. learn English.
  • - You. shall. should. do more exercise.
  • - They. shan't. have come yet.

Where to use should I? ›

Should is used to say that something is the proper or best thing to do, or to say that someone ought to do something or must do something. Adam could visit us on Monday. This tells us that it is possible Adam will visit on Monday, maybe he can visit us, but maybe he has other options, too.

What do you mean by should I? ›

(ʃʊd ) verb. the past tense of shall: used as an auxiliary verb to indicate that an action is considered by the speaker to be obligatory (you should go) or to form the subjunctive mood with I or we (I should like to see you; if I should be late, go without me) See also shall.

Can we use should with I? ›

We sometimes use should (instead of would) for the first person singular and plural (I, we) of some conditionals: If I lost my job I should have no money. (If he lost his job he would have no money.) We should be grateful if you could send us your latest catalogue.

What does Why should I mean? ›

used for rudely refusing to do what someone has just asked you to do. 'Tell us what Digby said. ' 'Why should I? '

Should I have examples? ›

"I should have read the directions before starting." "I should have eaten breakfast this morning." "I should have listened to your advice." "I should have married her when I had the chance."

What there should I use in a sentence? ›

Their is the possessive pronoun, as in "their car is red"; there is used as an adjective, "he is always there for me," a noun, "get away from there," and, chiefly, an adverb, "stop right there"; they're is a contraction of "they are," as in "they're getting married."

Which to too should I use? ›

To is a preposition with several meanings, including “toward” and “until.” Too is an adverb that can mean “excessively” or “also.” Just to be clear: two is pronounced the same as to and too, but it can't be used instead of either of them because it's a number.

Shall I call or can I call? ›

"Can I call you?" is used when you want to ask permission to phone someone at an undetermined point in the future. "Shall I call you?" is used when you want to offer to phone someone.

Can I come or shall I come? ›

There is a very subtle difference. You will ask "May I come in?" when you want to go in and are asking for permission and say "Shall I come in?" when you don't really want to go but will go in if someone says "Yes please come in." The latter is used like, if your dad is reading his paper on the couch...

Can we use shall for permission? ›

“Shall” is not used to seek permission! The polite way to ask is” Please may I…….?”

Why shall is not used now? ›

However, we recommend that you do not use shall in your American English as it sounds too formal, too old-fashioned, and too British. Rather, stick to should or will—depending on the context.

Do people still say shall? ›

"British people use I shall/I will and we shall/we will with no difference of meaning in most situations. However, shall is becoming very much less common than will. Shall is not normally used in American English. . . .


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