The sentence:

It's essential that the documents should be destroyed immediately.

Why can't ought to be used in place of should and why can't I go for would?

  • 2
    It's essential that you choose a relevant title for your question. :) – Færd Feb 10 '16 at 18:14
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    Because in mandative subjunctive constructions, the U.S. typically uses a bare infinitive (i.e., the subjunctive) while the U.K. typically uses should. And your grammar book is teaching you U.K. English. Why do we use these forms? I think it's the end result of a complicated historical process which started with should be and be being two alternative subjunctive constructions. – Peter Shor Feb 10 '16 at 18:17
  • With the death of the subjunctive, I believe are is becoming a widely used alternative in the U.K. (Although I'm not sure about this, because I speak U.S. English.) But I believe that options b, c, d are not generally used. See this reference. – Peter Shor Feb 10 '16 at 18:21
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    @PeterShor Do you mean that you would insert no word at all? It is essential that the documents be destroyed. Because I would find that equally idiomatic. I am not at all sure that I would use should - except perhaps for emphasis. – WS2 Feb 10 '16 at 18:25
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    @WS2: Yes, in formal English, Americans would typically insert no word at all. – Peter Shor Feb 10 '16 at 18:26

The only one that fits grammatically is should.

Another idiomatic possibility is to insert no word at all - It is essential that the documents be destroyed immediately.

Ought to be, would and had better cannot be qualified by it is essential that...

If something ought to be done it ought to be done. It is not gradable and subject to essentiality qualifications. Similarly with had better.

If it would be done, it is outside the scope of anyone to alter anything - so essential/inessential does not apply.


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