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ESL forum > Grammar and Linguistics > Should vs Can     

Should vs Can


Should vs Can
Hello friends!

I really need your help!

Yesterday I was teaching my students that we use can and should for ADVICE, it īs a topic on interchange 1.

For example: Where can I buy some jewelry? You should visit _____(place)

One of my students is saying that she īs not understanding when to use should and when to use can.

Do you know any good way to teach the difference?

Thank you in advance.


21 Mar 2014      


Hi Mirelli!

I think this link is quite clear and useful about the use of modals. Take a look:


21 Mar 2014     


Have you tried conveying the idea of being in trouble and in need of good advice? I mean... "I completly forgot it was my best friend īs birthday yesterday! what should I do?! ---> you should buy her (a nice necklace) and apologize ---> Where can I buy a nice one? ---> Well, you CAN buy one at any jewelery store BUT I think you SHOULD go to "Goldie" store. They make exclusive ones there! Or the idea of "the right thing to do" ---> Sometimes you CAN buy medicine without a recipe but I think you SHOULD ask a doctor first.       
Hope it works! :)

21 Mar 2014     

Costa Rica

Advice doesn īt have any plural, never say Advices... instead you can say pieces of advice, never advices  :)

21 Mar 2014     


" SOME advice" sounds even better than "pieces of advice" (not really used !) ... Just a suggestion :-)

21 Mar 2014     


Pieces of advice is frequently used indeed. However, in this case, you should better say ī for giving advice ī. If you compare the use of īsome advice ī and īpieces of advice ī only on Internet, you could see how many results each has. īPieces of advice ī is three times more used. And how many times you can hear from the movies: īLook, I  really need to give you one good piece of advice ī.

21 Mar 2014     

United Kingdom

Either way about advice, it īs impolite to correct on the forum - you should send a pm. 

21 Mar 2014     

United States

In this case, I disagree, Lynne. We īre used to thinking of advice as non-countable, but many non-native speakers aren īt. Perhaps the advice could (there īs another modal for the crowd!) have been a bit more diplomatic, but I think that this kind of advice helps not only the OP, but others. That said, I usually do criticize in PM, especially for worksheets.

21 Mar 2014     


Hi Mirelli
Should & can in this situation are tricky!
MissAndreaP īs explanation is good.
Where I live, should in your context is very strong and could/can are better options.
This is how I teach it:
Should is for when there is no other option:
Where can I buy some exclusive or really special jewellery for my daughterīs 18th birthday? For something really special you should go to _______
Could/can is for when there are other options, so for suggestion or possibility.
Where can I buy some jewellery? You could/can go to _____ , ______  or _______ .
Hope this helps
P.S.  I donīt find any of these replies impolite (or have some been deleted?)
- Advice does actually have a plural, but not in this context
- Both Some and Piece/s of advice are used in my neck of the woods

21 Mar 2014     


I teach "should" as a suggestion. i.e. you should - I suggest to you that... 

Can is a suggestion but not a personal one, you are just telling if as it is. It īs a fact. You can go somewhere because they sell those items, you know that shop sells that item. But it īs not really a personal suggestion, ie you not would go there to buy that item even though that shop sells it. "Should" implies that you would go there because something makes it īs special. 

21 Mar 2014     

Russian Federation

can - may
should - must

You can means "you may do it if you want to".
You should means "I think you must do it, but you don īt have to if you don īt want".

21 Mar 2014     

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