What is the difference between You should go and You ought to go? I rarely use the latter.
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Semantically, there is no real difference between the two constructions, and they can be used interchangeably. I agree with you that "should" has become the far more common construction.
Even back to the Old English (and earlier Proto-Germanic), the words carry a nearly identical sense of obligation. As such, I'd be hard pressed to articulate even a minor connotative difference between the two forms in modern usage.
Palmer (The English Verb) distinguishes three uses of should.
The difference, in so far as there is one at all, lays with how much the speaker agrees with the obligation. I think.
You should go implies that the speaker (as well as possibly other people) thinks you should go.
You ought to go implies that, while there is clearly an obligation to go on your part, the speaker might not agree with it. Or at least reserves the right to not agree with it, even if he does think it's a good idea in the instant case.
This difference is very, very subtle, and may only exist in my mind.
‘An A-Z of English Grammar and Usage’ by Leech and others says:
In their ‘Cambridge English Grammar’, Carter and McCarthy tell us that:
Elsewhere in the book they say:
They don't say whether or not ought to can be used in this way. The implication is that it can not, but I would not entirely rule it out.
I'm not a native speaker and I came around to brush up my English, so this is not an answer, rather a sub-question, but I was pretty sure that should was a moral, interpersonal statement while ought to referred to a nearly logical necessity or an objectively preferable course of action. So... did that difference "only exist in my mind" ? > Then it would explain why "the speaker might not agree" with what is ought, as he not so personally involved in a moral/ethical 'pronouncement'.
protected by RegDwigнt♦ Oct 16 '13 at 7:28
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