What is the difference between "should X" and "should be Xing" in the following contexts? Or are they interchangeable?

  • 10 Things you should do to improve the health of your hair.
  • 10 Things You Should Be Doing to Boost Your Immunity.

(From Google searches.) Is there any slight difference between using should do and should be doing there?


I believe in making the world safe for our children, but not our children's children, because I don't think children should be having sex.
— Jack Handey

Would "I don't think children should have sex" be possible here?


4 Answers 4


My sense of the difference is this:

Ten things you should do implies that the list will consist of things that you do once, and then you're done; for example, "lose 10 pounds" or "get your prostate checked."

Ten things you should be doing implies that the list consists of things that you have to develop as ongoing habits; for example, "get 30 minutes of exercise every day."

This distinction can easily be overridden by the details provided in the actual list, though.


If you were my boss at work and you said "here are 10 things you should do", I would assume these were new projects, not yet undertaken, to put on the "to do" list.

If you said "here are 10 things you should be doing" I would be more likely to feel a sense of immediacy with an implied "should be doing NOW".

I would assume the writer of the second article title wished to convey a sense of urgency.


My understanding is "should do" is a one-time thing, whereas "should be doing" implies the continuous effort, i.e. a process.

In your example:

10 things you should do to improve the health of your hair

possibly means 10 things / tasks that you need to do. (For example, take medications, check with a doctor, etc)

10 Things You Should Be Doing to Boost Your Immunity.

can mean something that you should be doing constantly, such as exercising daily, taking healthy diet, etc.

In a sense, the first pattern can be used in place of the second one.


What you "should do" means "the task is assign to you to accomplish" but what you "should be doing" means "it was assigned earlier on and I left it when in for something else".

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