What is the difference between "should go" and "should get going"?

I read the two links below but I think they seem contradictory to me. The speakers are talking out of their personal usage, and this is perfectly fine. It's only an issue when their personal usage contradicts each other. If there are many speakers would use them in what seems contradictory to me, it could mean that there is no difference in Spoken English, but formal only.

So could you tell me the difference by both, explanation and giving example scenarios/sentences. Here are some suggested criteria to use for comparison I compiled from the two links, but you are encouraged to add modify whatever helps make a better answer.

  • Urgency of what makes you get going/go (in other words, the reason)
  • Strength/rudeness vs mildness/softness of the two constructs
  • internal (i.e under your control)/external (i.e beyond your control)

Note: You may want to give a prelim answer and then update it from the comments in case you need some clarifications and that might be even better. I didn't give quotes to what seems contradictory because it would make the post long and also to be honest I am not confident that I get the difference clear after reading both. So I thought of starting from scratch. The links would help the reader make clearer answers I believe.

External answers:

  1. ell.Stackexchange.com: “I should go” vs. “I should be going
  2. Wordreference.com: "We should go / We should get going"
  • 1
    In PEU by Swan, 218 future: will/shall,going to and present progressive (advanced points) points out the subtle difference of Will you do the shopping this afternoon, please? and Will you be doing the shopping ...? The explanation given is that Will you do ... is a request where Will you be doing ... is to ask for information about planned actions. I think this might apply to should go vs should be going as well. Commented Jan 15, 2014 at 9:45
  • I should definitely check that section out. Thanks DT.
    – learner
    Commented Jan 15, 2014 at 10:09

3 Answers 3


from my perspective (American dialect):

To "get going" means to take concrete actions to prepare to leave. It can also mean "to hurry up." So, for instance, if I have a lot to do today, and I am dawdling over my breakfast and drinking my second cup of coffee, someone might say "you should get going!" But they probably wouldn't say "you should go!"

So "I should get going" is something I'm more likely to use when I'm implying that I have somewhere to go and stuff to do. "I should go" I'm more likely to use when I should leave. (For instance: we are at your house, we just had an unpleasant conversation, and I feel unwelcome: "I should go." I am at your house for a dinner party and it's time for me to go to bed "I should get going.")

Summary: "I should get going" implies I "should" because I have somewhere else to be, whereas "I should go" implies I "should" because it's important that I not be here. This is subtle but becomes more strong when we change "I" to "you."

As far as "I should be going," it's something I hear in movies but I don't personally say; maybe it is more British, or maybe it is just old-fashioned.

  • i also agree that "get going" is a little informal.
    – hunter
    Commented Jan 15, 2014 at 12:05

In my opinion, as a native English speaker, there is no difference in urgency nor in politeness between these two statements.

Some may perceive slightly more formality to the abbreviated version. "I should go" has a sense of finality about it. It could sound like an abrupt end to the encounter.

On the other hand, "I should get going" or "I should be going" seem a bit… softer, I suppose. It's like "I should get going (soon)." It seems a bit less formal as well.

It could also just come down to personal style. Personally, I tend to use the second version "I should be going," often followed by "this is me -- going" as I actually depart. This is by no means a normal thing, it's just my thing. ;-)

  • Well said! Now I am waiting for more opinions, even if I cannot find a rule I'll probably be able to feel it! It all depends on how detailed your answers are, guys!
    – learner
    Commented Jan 15, 2014 at 10:08

One notable difference is that you can embed an object between the auxiliary and the main lexical verb (present participle form (-ing)):

  • We should get something going for next weekend.
  • We should get someone going on this.
  • We should get ourselves going, or we'll be late.

In general, style manuals frowned on the use of "get" in the 20s (and still to this day for technical writing). So it is a less formal structure, used in friendly conversation.

Since your question concerns the first person, yes, I agree that there is a sort of conflict between the I who moves and the I who is moved (what you described as internal (I as subject) and external (I as object): "I should get (myself) going" expresses a bit of regret (or at least emotional involvement) at the idea of having to move oneself away. :)

get being an inceptive verb, the focus is on the beginning of the process. With the infinitive or verbal base the focus is on the entire process of "going" without differentiation. (The infinitive is less anchored in the present moment than the -ing form).

A contemporaneous moment in fact...

  • I got myself going
  • I had a hard time getting myself going this morning. etc. :)

Causative structures are often complicated :)

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .