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What's the difference in meaning between these sentences?

You should eat less.

You have to eat less.

You must eat less.

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  • "have to" and "must" pretty much mean the same thing; they describe what is required
  • "should" is not as strong, and describes what is recommended

In the context of eating less, you must eat less is a very strong statement. I'd assume it means: unless you starts eating less, you are putting your health, your well-being, and maybe even your life in jeopardy.

In contrast, you should eat less is not as emphatic. It means the person would gain some benefit by cutting back on their food intake.


As a footnote, in general, I think must reads a little better than have to in such constructs, even though they mean the same thing.

  • would it be appropriate to mention the moral aspect of 'should'? – Please stop being evil Apr 3 '15 at 1:52
  • @thedarkwanderer - It's hard to capture all nuances of English words in a single answer. Here, I didn't mention the moral aspect of should because the O.P.'s example talks about eating. (Barring a fast, this is not generally a moral concern.) That said, on ELL, we encourage multiple answers to questions; explaining how words work in other contexts is generally helpful for the learner. If you want to discuss the moral aspect of should, perhaps you 'should' leave another answer here and do that. :-) – J.R. Apr 3 '15 at 8:20

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