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Is there a difference between should not and should avoid or more generally between not and avoid e.g

You should not be drinking.
You should avoid drinking.
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up vote 7 down vote accepted

There doesn't appear to be much difference between the two. It all depends on the intonation used. Nevertheless,

You should avoid drinking.

sounds cautionary.

You should not be drinking.

sounds obligatory.

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AFAIK Should Not may be seen as a command or something that is expected to be followed, because there is a reason to it. ex: One should not play with fire.

Should avoid is USED more like an advice. In theory, should is used when there is a reason/history to the verb/object of the sentence. So the difference between not and avoid becomes a matter of expression.

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In the context of a technical manual, there may be a significant difference: one implying an absolute rule, the other providing guidance. For example:

one should not use the camcorder underwater.

one should avoid using the camcorder is a dusty environment.

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You should not be drinking

sounds like an admonition in the present tense. You are drinking now, and you should not be.

You should avoid drinking

sounds like general advice, not time-specific.

A piece of friendly advice: you should not be drinking [right now], and you should avoid drinking [in general].

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