Ok, see this youtube video, here is this tense matrix

                  Past - Present - Future
Perfect Continuous

We also have the same tense structures for Modals

                  Can - May         - Might - Must - Could - Would - Ought to
Simple                 may do
Continuous             may be doing
Perfect                may have done
Perfect Continuous     may have been doing

I would think the differences between "must live in Japan" & "must be living in Japan" are:

Must here refers to a very high possibility. Things that you think is very likely to happen.

Ex: She must live in Japan (we also have "She lives in Japan" which means she lives there more or less permanently)

And when you want to emphasize a continuous process, say "She must be living in Japan" (we also have "She is living in Japan" which means she lives there more or less temporarily)

Ok, "must, might" are easy, but what about "should"?

My question is that: What are the differences between "I should live in Japan" & "I should be living in Japan"?

Does "I should live in Japan" mean "I should live there more or less permanently"

& "I should be living in Japan" mean "I should live there more or less temporarily"?

Note: "must" here refers to possibility not obligation. She must live in Japan (=it is likely that she lives there at this moment), not (She have to live there) as if it is obligation

"should" here refers to advice.

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    This is just a question for the ELL site, where it will be well-received.
    – Joe Blow
    Commented Jan 22, 2017 at 14:32
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    I genuinely admire your diligence in mastering English, but I sincerely believe you are over-thinking this. In what context (in response to what sample sentences or situations) would you use statements like "She must live in Japan," "She must be living in Japan," "I should live in Japan," and "I should be living in Japan" instead of using more simple constructions, such as "I would like to live in Japan" or "I wonder if she lives in Japan"? I am not criticizing you at all, but many native English speakers would never grapple with these questions about English grammar without specific context. Commented Jan 22, 2017 at 15:52
  • 'I should live in Japan' is probably a not-too-serious admission that it would be better if I were there. 'I should be living in Japan' carries a strong hint that something has happened to thwart my plans. Commented Jan 22, 2017 at 16:12
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    I understand and agree about "must." But to answer your questions, if I found out that incomes are higher and taxes are lower in Japan, I would say "I should live in Japan," meaning it would be better for me financially. If I visited Kyoto twice a month, I would say "I should be living in Japan," meaning "I fly to Japan so often that it might be easier just to live there." The subtle differences do not imply "permanently" and/or "temporarily" (at least to me). That is why I suggest using a more simple construct, like "I want to live in Japan," and "I would like to live in Japan for awhile." Commented Jan 23, 2017 at 17:20
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    What Mark said is right. The desire to carefully investigate each usage can be put to good use, but here you're drawing distinctions and doubting your existing knowledge somewhat unprofitably. All your summary and ensuing speculation is correct. The particular modal chosen doesn't really interact with the tense/aspect in a meaningful way here. Upvoted anyway because the question models good background research. Commented Jun 27, 2017 at 4:53

3 Answers 3


That whole dish is so far over-cooked, the true essence of the main ingredients is masked.

In a question about the differences between ‘should live in Japan’ and ‘should be living in Japan’ the red herring ‘must’ changes naught.

The ‘Japan’ fish also belongs in that kettle until someone shows how ‘Xanadu’ might change the flavour.

‘Live’ in and of itself swims with the same fishes unless it starts to behave differently from, say, 'say' or ‘swim.’

Boiling the kettle reduces the stew to ‘live’ and ‘living’ which, with the residual taste of ‘should’ peeled away, need fresh seasoning until they become once again ‘I live’ and ‘I am living’.

Underneath all the starch ‘I live’ still smacks more or less of permanent continuance compared to the temporary or transient nature of ‘I am living.’

When the two seem similar that’s either an inadequate example or some kind of confusion.

  • A mouthwatering bouillabaisse of an answer. Commented Jun 27, 2017 at 4:49

Continuous tenses add a logical or contextual "stretch" to actions. This is a different meaning than the actual duration of the activity sometimes.

You usually want this "stretch" if you have two actions/events, and you want to say action/event X started in the middle of the process of action/event Y. "I was walking down the street when I ran into Bobby."

Without continuous tense, it sounds like one action/event happened after the other, not while:

I walked down the street when I ran into Bobby. (This sounds like you were done walking down the street, and then you ran into Bobby.)

You can also use this to say that you could not do action/event X because action/event Y was in process. In this case you may not explicitly specify action/event X in the same sentence.

A: So you never saw Bethany?

B: No. I was living in Japan at the time. She was in Bangladesh.

And this is why you would use a verb like to live in a continuous tense to be living - because you want to say something "interrupted" it or that you could not do something because to live was "in process." Of course no matter whether you say to live or to be living - you are still living over a period of time.


Actually, they have the same meaning, but as "live" is a continuous action, (.i.e.: When you live, you are always living, you can't say: I live there some times) That's why "be living" was used, it implies to say one continuous action.

Must, in those sentences, means deduction, it could easily be replaced for:

She is probably living in Japan.

She is living in Japan could possibily mean that she is now living in Japan, which means that she had been living in another place before she moved to Japan.

I'm living in Japan, but I used to live in America.

They are living in Japan now, but Europe was their main country.

I should be living in Japan

I should live in Japan

There are no differences, in addiction to the fact that "be living" is an emphasized action, which means in that very moment.

We should live in Japan = It's a normal clause, which implies neither emphasis nor a time.

We should be living in Japan = It's an emphasized clause, which implies emphasis and mentions a current time.

And, as far as I know, "be" is also used when you want to express time, compare the following sentences:

We should be living in Japan next week!

We should live in Japan next week!

I should be working next week!

I should work next week!

They have quite a big difference, don't they?

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    Not quite. We can and do say, "I live there sometimes," when referring, for instance, to a vacation home or an office in another city or country. We would almost never say, "We should live in Japan next week!" which simply doesn't make sense to a native speaker. The subtleties of meaning involved because of the choice of topic ("living in Japan") may also be difficult to explain in simple English for cultural reasons unrelated to grammar. Some American English speakers are very keen on Japanese culture, society, language, customs, business, work ethic, and the beauty of its people; others not. Commented Jan 22, 2017 at 15:10
  • @MarkHubbard - I'm aware that my example would never be used by a native speaker, but that was only an example, I couldn't think about anything else, (sorry for my limited mind), but the example of the work fits perfectly. Now referring to the "I live there sometimes", I'm almost sure that natives would opt for using: I go there sometimes, We spend our vacations there sometimes, He visits there sometimes. Live, in a grammatical context, couldn't perform this function, since it is always a continuous action.
    – Haseo
    Commented Jan 22, 2017 at 15:15
  • My point is that "the differences between 'I should live in Japan' & 'I should be living in Japan'" require more context, more information to be properly described. To someone who owns homes in San Francisco and Kyoto, for instance, saying of Japan, "I live there sometimes" would be quite normal. I'm not down-voting or criticizing your answer, my friend, I am only trying to point out some potential pitfalls in addressing Tom's question. Switching to "work" was a very good idea! Your answer has the potential to be excellent. Please do not be discouraged by my comments. Commented Jan 22, 2017 at 15:26
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    I've just now asked Tom that question, above. My mind is limited as well, and I'm hoping that Tom can help us out. With more information added to the question, we can help formulate a more complete answer for him. Commented Jan 22, 2017 at 16:02
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    @MarkHubbard - I don't like it either. I also don't like when OP asks something, and they ask something totally different from what was aked. "I want to know what is the difference between X and Y" - "X and Y aren't commonly used nowadays, it's a very old way of saying it.." - "Ok, but I want to know what the differences are". People are here to help and be helped, we have to distinguish it.
    – Haseo
    Commented Jan 22, 2017 at 16:28

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