In academic work, you often need to make recommendations about things that people, organisations or other researchers should do. If English isn’t your first language, you may find it difficult to work out which of these words (called ‘modal verbs’) you should use. Their meanings can seem to be very similar.
Using the wrong one can completely change the meaning of what you say, so it’s really worth learning how to use them correctly. The words in green in this paragraph are modal verbs themselves!
Here’s an example of a sentence from an essay:
‘All governments must prepare emergency evacuation plans for public buildings.’
This tells the reader that governments have no choice at all about this issue, and that is not true: there is no worldwide law which compels governments to do this. The following sentence is much more likely to be correct:
‘All governments should prepare emergency evacuation plans for public buildings.’
This tells the reader that the author believes that, in his or her opinion, it would be a very good idea indeed if governments had such plans in place. This is the sort of statement you are often asked to present in essays, dissertations and theses, where it would probably be preceded by a description of the problems caused by the lack of such plans, and be followed by suggestions about what benefits such plans might bring to governments and the communities they serve.
Here’s a little table which you might find useful when you are writing your next piece of work:
Credit: Easy Pace Learning