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Obligation. Must, have to, should, ought to.

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Obligation.

Must, have to, should, ought to.

To start off, look at the following examples:
- I must bring my passport to the airport to be able to get on board.


- The manager told me that I’d have to bring my passport for the interview.
- I should bring my passport for tonight’s night out – they might ask me for the proof of my age.
- I ought to bring my passport to avoid trouble with the security.

Now let’s investigate the difference in their meanings.

Must and have to.
I must bring my passport” and “I have to bring my passport” mean approximately the same – a necessity or obligation to bring my passport.
In many cases, must and have to are interchangeable. However, the main difference between must and have to is in nature of the obligation. Must refers to internal obligation (expressed by a speaker – by me in the example), and have to refers to external obligation (expressed by regulations or somebody’s wish – by the manager in the example).

Must is stronger than have to. It’s used mainly in written rules. By overusing it in an inappropriate way you might sound rude.

At the same time, the meaning of the negative forms of these modal verbs is completely different:

- I cross the road against the red light (it’s prohibited, negative obligation).
- I don’t have to cross the road – my house is on this side (absence of obligation or necessity).

Should and ought to.
The meaning of should and ought to is the same – used to talk about advice and about what is right, sensible, or correct.
Should is used much more frequently. Ought to is used particularly in spoken English. The choice to use should or ought to depends on personal preference.

Now, if we compare have to and should, the difference is rather contrasting:
- The manager told me that I’d have to bring my passport for the interview (external obligation).
- I should bring my passport for tonight’s out – they might ask me for the proof of my age (it’s advised if I do so, but there is no necessity).