I use the term "should probably" very, very frequently in order to say "to the best of my knowledge up to this point, this is the correct way to do X, but your input is still valuable"

I'm currently writing out some spec sheets, and it get's very tiresome using "should probably" over and over again.

Is there a single word which expresses the concept of "you should probably do this"?

If not, is there a word which is stronger than "could" and weaker than "should?"

  • Sorry, but do you actually say: you should probably in your spec sheets? What is the usual subject of your sentence where you use "should probably"?
    – Lambie
    Sep 18, 2018 at 16:01
  • Yes. "This component should probably use css grid," "The function should probably take a string and callback argument."
    – Seph Reed
    Sep 18, 2018 at 20:39
  • Unfortunately, "ought" sounds more like hilly billy slang for "should" than a separate term to me. I've just been using should-prob. My approach tends to be rather informal anyways.
    – Seph Reed
    Sep 18, 2018 at 20:51
  • You are very mistaken about that. Hillybilly dialect would be something: I oughta tan ya hide. But that in no way obfuscates "ought" used in standard contexts.
    – Lambie
    Sep 18, 2018 at 20:59
  • If you're writing a spec sheet, there should not be expressions of uncertainty in the actual specifications. Slap on a cover sheet saying "this sheet is for review and feedback, please provide your opinions and alternatives if you believe changes are needed." Then replace "should probably X" with "will X" or "Xes" across the board (e.g. "should probably take" -> "will take" or "takes").
    – Hellion
    Sep 20, 2018 at 13:45

3 Answers 3


ideally - in relation to an exemplar.

"The function ideally has two arguments."

"Ideally, this component..."

I should also note that despite the definition, invoking ideally conversationally is going to rest on the authority of the speaker, not necessarily imply that a proposed solution is a universal ideal. It is one of those words like literally that doesn't have to be taken entirely literally.

  • @Chappo - sorry for the delay. iPad answers make the link back a little more daunting. Not for the copy/paste but for the markdown!
    – stevesliva
    Sep 20, 2018 at 13:34
  • You are just swapping one adverb for another. You'll still need the modal.
    – AmI
    Sep 20, 2018 at 17:52
  • This is really, really close to what I'm looking for. It's not the right word for what I need, but it is the right word for the question. Thank you.
    – Seph Reed
    Sep 20, 2018 at 17:57

I suggest using Ought to

used to express something that you expect will happen:

  • He ought to be home by seven o'clock.
  • They ought to have arrived at lunchtime but the flight was delayed.
  • If you show the receipt, there ought not to be any difficulty getting your money back

Ought to

Used to indicate something that is probable.

  • ‘five minutes ought to be enough time’

Should and Ought to are generally interchangeable nowadays, but should has more of a subjective meaning, and ought to is more objective according to some scholars.

See quote on p12 of on the pragmatics of modal verbs by I Depraetere - ‎2017

The distinction between 'objective modality' and 'subjective modality' is another opposition that is very much in the foreground in discussions of the meaning of modal verbs. For instance, should has been argued by some to be somewhat more subjective than ought to (Declerck 1991, Larreya & Rivière 2005: 126)

Oxford Dictionaries blog says

should is much more common statistically. There are over 2 million instances of should on the Oxford English Corpus, compared with around 71,000 occurrences of ought. In particular, should is much more frequent in questions or negative constructions than ought. Should is the least forceful of the trio [they included must]: it’s mostly used to make suggestions and more tentative predictions.

The infographic below provides more detail in terms of the relative strengths of each "modal verb"

starting from weakest to strongest would, could, might, may, need to, can, should, will, has to, shall, ought to, must

To the best of my knowledge, there isn't a single word in English which expresses the concept of "you should probably do this"

  • No, there’s no "subjective" vs "objective" sense here. These are both modals and thus have both epistemic and deontic modalities.
    – tchrist
    Sep 18, 2018 at 15:03
  • 2
    Hmmm. This definitely falls on the scale of could, ought, should, must, but there still seems to be a very large gap between could and ought where an opinion might lay.
    – Seph Reed
    Sep 18, 2018 at 15:13
  • 5
    I always understood "ought" as an obligation; indeed, a quick check of etymology suggest it is from 'owe'
    – user172447
    Sep 18, 2018 at 15:24
  • 1
    The application should probably respond to x needs: that's really soft. "The application ought to respond to x needs" is much stronger.
    – Lambie
    Sep 18, 2018 at 16:04
  • 2
    And if a single word is absolutely a requirement, there's always oughta. 8^) Sep 18, 2018 at 16:42

I thought I should-prob share the notion of using "should-prob." It's obviously only good for non-formal situations, but it's better than nothing.

To elaborate, there seems to be a very wide band between "should" and "can" where a person has an educated opinion, but acknowledges it as opinion (and therefor fallible).

Telling a person what they should do gives the impression that there is a right and wrong, and that you know which is which. Telling a person what they can do implies there is no right and wrong, and you don't have an opinion.

Between these two can be imagined a situation where there is a right and wrong and you have an opinion but do not know what to do. A suggestion if you will.

What's strange is that of these three scenarios, the missing one seems the most common. Anyone who knows what's right and wrong is probably misguided, and notion of having no opinion on a subject is probably a lie.

Anyways, for now I'm using should-prob until something better comes up.

  • 1
    Should probably is definitely formal. More saying that getting away with abrevs is for informal chatting. My feelings on ought to have largely to do with only ever hearing it slurred and smooshed for the most part. It's purely subjective.
    – Seph Reed
    Sep 18, 2018 at 22:36
  • 2
    Please make this into a real answer, if you believe should-prob is the answer to the question.
    – Andrew Leach
    Sep 18, 2018 at 23:17
  • I think this narrowly meets the requirements for an answer and I'm therefore recommending against deletion. But that doesn't mean I agree with it as a suitable solution to the posted question. Sep 19, 2018 at 2:44
  • 1
    First,you say it is and then you say it isn't. And you also get into moral judgments with right and wrong. When, in fact, you wrote: "The function should probably take a string and callback argument." So, it isn't about people, it isn't about morality. It's about - wait for it - the programmer's or tech writer's opinion. So your answer is irrelevant.
    – Lambie
    Sep 19, 2018 at 13:38

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