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I can discern a certain nuance from the following examples:

1. I should be doing my homework.

2. I should do my homework.

I would think #1 suggests that I am supposed to be doing my homework now while #2 suggests that I may as well do my homework now but it is not required. I am not sure I got it right. Please help to elaborate on this.

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5 Answers 5

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Your feeling is correct!

I should be doing my homework.

This implies that I am doing something else, but the right thing to do would be to stop that and get started on my homework.

I should do my homework.

This does not imply anything about what I am doing right now. Therefore, it also lacks a strong sense of value judgement about doing homework now. It might be a good idea to start it right now, but it's not necessarily bad behaviour if I don't.

Why the difference? I think it's down to two things:

  1. Because "should be" is used for deliberate contrast with what is, while "should" alone doesn't have this sense of contrast.
  2. Because "do" could mean now or later, whereas "be doing" is definitely now. Even if it's clear from context that I mean now, the vagueness of the former makes it seem less urgent.
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The first sentence implies right now ,the second sentence does not. For example:

I should be doing my homework now instead of playing video games.

as opposed to:

Every day I should do my homework before playing video games.

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That's one scenario. Sorry not to provide any context. I would think "I should do my homework." can also mean "I should do my homework now." Right? –  Zhanlong Zheng May 10 at 14:14
    
You are correct! ............. adding the context is very important......the listener (or reader) will not have to guess your true meaning...............it is worth one or two extra words! –  Gary's Student May 10 at 14:26
    
While your answer is right, the others are more to the point. Thx. –  Zhanlong Zheng May 11 at 13:04
    
@ZhanlongZheng The answer is like the best is Tim's –  Gary's Student May 11 at 13:21

A slightly different perspective:

"I should be doing my homework" implies that you want the activity (doing the homework) to take place. It seems to care less about the homework "being done" and more about the fact that the student is seen to be studying.

"I should do my homework" focuses on the outcome. "Good students do their homework". It doesn't matter when they do it - it matters that it gets done. The process and timing is less important in this phrase.

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You are correct. In particular, the first has a specific time at which you should be doing your homework (now) while the second entirely lacks a time frame. Even the implied "before it is due" is weak, as the homework in question could already be overdue.

So, sentence 1 says you are doing something other than your homework, and whatever that is, it is not what you should be doing at the moment. Sentence 2 says you are not doing your homework at the moment, but at sometime you should do so. This leaves open the possibility that what you are doing now is what you should be doing at the moment.

Note that neither implies that you will do your homework, only that in your opinion you should do so.

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Welcome to English Language Learners (ELL) and thank you for your contribution. I've fixed a typo and made a minor change in the wording. Please, feel free to revert the change in wording. –  Nico May 11 at 6:53

I should be doing implies that right this moment you should be in the act of doing something, but aren't. = I am doing my homework (continuous action being done presently)

I should do means that maybe not now, not later but at some point in the future near or far you should do your homework.

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