You <should> have your multiplication table memorized by now


Senior Member
Dear all,

Teacher said, "We're going to have a math quiz now. Please do all the calculations in your head. You should have the multiplication table memorized by now."

I made it up. What would you take the "should" to mean? I guess it could mean obligation (you're obliged to) or expectation (you're expected to) or "you probably". I often find it hard to distinguish between the senses.
Do native speakers have a good way to do that?
  • Biffo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    You have correctly identified the ambiguity and nuances. I would put it this way.

    You should have the multiplication table memorized by now. (probability/expectation)

    You ought to have the multiplication table memorized by now. (obligation/expectation)

    Note that precision of meaning is given by intonation. It is nigh on impossible to show this in text but I'll try.


    You should have the table memorized by now. (accusing)

    You should have the table memorized. (hopeful)
    Last edited:


    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    I don't think the shades of meaning are quite so clear-cut as in the OP. In this particular context I'd say it's a case of "expectation" mixed with "probably".

    The nuance that can be ruled out is the "obligation" one: You should have the multiplication tables memorised by tomorrow, when I'll be testing you on them" or "Don't complain to me about your bad marks; you should have memorised the multiplication tables, as instructed."


    Senior Member
    British English
    There are all kinds of nuances with should and ought to. As so often in English, the meaning depends on the context. I'd say the OP should definitely expresses obligation, especially if the test is taking place right now. I'm sure the teacher wasn't trying to say You've probably memorised your tables or I expect you've memorised them but I can't be certain or It's a logical conclusion that you've memorised them. He was saying You were obliged to memorise your tables. There's an element of expectation as well in that the teacher expects the pupils to do as they're told.
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