Do native speakers still use "ought to" in daily conversation?

I haven't seen "ought to" used on any social or news ... websites. I only read about it in English grammar books.


ought to


ought to Google trends


  • Is "ought to" still used by native speaker of American English?

  • Is "ought to" still used by native speaker of British English?

  • 13
    I sure do. But when I say it it usually sounds like "oughta" ... almost nobody pronounces "ought to" in full. Example: "You oughta get a raise if they're gonna work you this hard." But should is often used instead of ought to these days.
    – Robusto
    Commented Feb 16, 2017 at 23:38
  • 2
    @stangdon: I would be inclined to disagree.
    – Robusto
    Commented Feb 16, 2017 at 23:42
  • 5
    "Why I oughta!" - The Three Stooges. m.memegen.com/s5gnxb.jpg
    – Catija
    Commented Feb 17, 2017 at 0:40
  • 16
    @Robusto - Hey, at this point any evidence that the OP has actually done some research is welcome to me...
    – stangdon
    Commented Feb 17, 2017 at 1:26
  • 8
    To hear everyday examples, you ought to come to the Southern U.S. The phrase is still alive and well here. Commented Feb 17, 2017 at 4:10

4 Answers 4


Is "ought to" still used?

Yes, some native speakers still use ought to, even on social media:

Pres Trump ought to see the writing on the wall, abandon proposal, roll up his sleeves & come up w/ a real, bipartisan plan to keep us safe.
Senator Chuck Schumer on Twitter

It should be noted that the to is not required in the negative:

Margaret ought not exercise too much.

Ought to can also be (very informally) written as oughta.

Is usage really declining?

Yes, I believe so. As a native American English speaker, I don't use it a lot. I prefer to use "should". A search of my text messages and other private messages (some of which is 3 years old) for ought/oughta comes up with nothing, meaning that neither me nor my friends/family use it in written communication. And I found some other sources that indicate it’s not just me.

Some grammar books don't cover ought at all:

In the Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written English, Biber et al. even explicitly exclude ought to from the discussion, arguing that it is among a group of “marginal auxiliary verbs” that “are extremely rare and largely confined to BrE”
Root Modal Uses of Should, Ought to and Be Supposed to in Present-Day English: From Patterns and Profiles to Proficiency Guidelines

Other sources confirm that its usage is declining:

In a recent article, Leech has drawn attention to the changing status of modals in present day use. He says: “According to an exploratory investigation we have undertaken, the English modal auxiliaries as a group have been declining significantly in their frequency of use” (2003: 223), and explicitly recommends “to those involved in the teaching of English as a second or foreign language” not to “waste hours of valuable classroom time teaching shall and ought to
The study of modal verbs from a pedagogical perspective, quoting Leech's Modality on the Move

It even seems to be becoming less common in British English, as the Svartvik and Wright study was done on British teens in 1977:

Svartvik and Wright demonstrate that the modal auxiliary ought (to) is disappearing from the language and is being replaced by should, particularly in non-assertive contexts such as questions and negative statements.
Acceptability in Language

More Resources

  • 21
    As a Brit, I'm not convinced that many teenagers in the UK speak any form of English! You might also consider whether the reason for the decline in usage is sociological not linguistic - if the current trend is towards moral relativism, there is no use for the word "ought" any more.
    – alephzero
    Commented Feb 17, 2017 at 2:23
  • 2
    @alephzero That latter is exactly what I was thinking--it's not the expression that's declining per se so much as the idea it communicates. Commented Feb 17, 2017 at 2:54
  • 4
    I'm not a well-spoken Brit, but the example sentence "Margaret ought not exercise too much." in this answer doesn't look right to me. Oughtn't there be a "to" in there?
    – Mr Lister
    Commented Feb 17, 2017 at 13:39
  • 3
    @MrLister: It's fine. We ought not complain about it :) c.f. "I need not do that" or "Margaret need not exercise too much". Indeed, in that example, the "to" would sound strange! Odd language. Commented Feb 17, 2017 at 14:57
  • 2
    @MrLister Oughtn't there to've been a "to" in your question, then? (:
    – user3395
    Commented Feb 17, 2017 at 15:01

Social media is a pretty poor indicator of how people actually speak, in my personal opinion. As for the news and media - I don't know why you haven't heard it there very often. It is still used, though. I'm in my 30's, and I use "ought to" regularly. And I do pronounce the full 2 words, I do not say "oughta."

Of course, I'm also a bookworm and a librarian. But no, the word has not died in modern English yet. I have heard others use it as well.

  • 2
    Concur on nearly all of this- I definitely slur it, it would take a distinct effort for me to separate those two words. But aside from that, yeah. I wonder if there's a regional aspect to it? I'm from New Jersey, and I consider it a common phrase. I probably use it more in spoken language than written, but my written speech patterns significantly differ from my spoken ones, so that doesn't mean much.
    – gp782
    Commented Feb 17, 2017 at 2:43
  • 1
    Unforunately social media is a good indicator of how most people speak but not a good indicator of how the people speak that one wants to be speaking to. Commented Feb 17, 2017 at 22:01
  • 1
    I disagree - most people do not speak in only contractions or say BRB to their friends - they say "be right back." Text speech/social media posts are the lowest common denominator in modern English.
    – Harukogirl
    Commented Feb 17, 2017 at 23:37
  • 1
    Lol yes in that sense you are very right although I do hear a spoken "lol" sometimes. Commented Feb 18, 2017 at 3:50

'Ought to' often has a somewhat sarcastic or even chastising tone to it in modern American English whereas 'should' carries less tone and therefore is more often used.

"Mike ought to check his oil" is mostly used when the speaker is implying that Mike isn't going to check the oil or that he should have already. While "Mike should check his oil" only gives the implication that the speaker is providing a suggestion. Certainly the actual tone with which they are delivered can change the implications, but for neutral delivery this seems to apply.


Yes, ought to still exists and is used.

It can be heard and read in daily news too (though not often).

I'm active on few social sites and read many Internet articles, I ought to say it still exists.

Just a note: Ought is a modal verb and doesn't behave like ordinary verbs.

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