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Chinese Grammar: Lesson: Comparing 应该 and 必须 for should

Think of a Monday morning when the alarm clock rings and your mother is yelling: “Time to get up and go to school!” Sometimes, you have no choice but to face the things you “should” or “must” do. Aren’t you wondering how to express that in Chinese? Today, let's look at two verbs, 应该 and必须, that are both used in these moments where you really should be doing something. Both verbs can imply an obligation to do something, so let’s see which you should use when.

应该 for should

Let's start with 应该, which is extremely frequent in Mandarin Chinese. 应该 means “should; ought to” or “had better”; it is placed before the main verb. You usually use this verb when you want to express something that ought to be done or want to give some advice to someone. This is how you use it:


S + 应该 + V + O


应该学习 汉语
You should learn Chinese.

I'm supposed to drink more water.

应该 医院
He had better go to the hospital.

应该好好 学习
You ought to study hard.

应该 is an informal way to show a social obligation, but one nobody will force you to accomplish. It’s more like giving a choice that is preferable to do. In the last example, “study hard” is an advice that is helpful for you. But whether you choose to do it or not is up to you!

必须 for must

Unlikely 应该,the word 必须 conveys a strong sense of obligation: someone will force somebody to do something. 必须 is also placed before the main verb, and is a very formal way to express “must” and “having to” do something. It, therefore, can be used to give orders or command.


S + 必须 + V + O


必须 医院
You have to go to the hospital.

必须 起床
You must get up at seven o’ clock.

必须好好 学习
You must study hard.

As you see, 必须 is something you have no choice but to do. Notice how, in the last example, by changing just one word, the sentence entirely changes the meaning.

So how to feel about these two verbs? Ready to tell them apart and practice when to use which? Let's go!

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