Today, we are going to take a quick look at an important part of English grammar. It is the phrase “should have,” which can be shortened to “should’ve.” It’s an extremely useful construction for talking about the past and specifically about regrets.

How to Use Should Have

There are two ways to use this structure:

  1. Should have + past participle
  2. Should’ve + past participle

As you can see, the latter is an abbreviation (meaning a shortened version). It is more common in speech and informal writing (such as social media posts, blogs, e-mails to friends, and instant messages).

Whenever we say “should have” or “should’ve,” we follow it with the past participle form of the main verb. For example:

  • I should’ve studied harder for that example.

Here, the main verb is “to study” but the past participle form is “studied.”

When to Use Should Have

Let’s think about that example sentence again:

  • I should’ve studied harder for that example.

When someone says this, we know two things:

  1. They didn’t study hard.
  2. They wish they’d studied hard.

In other words, we use “should have” to talk about things that didn’t happen in the past but that we wish had happened.

Here are some more examples:

  • I should’ve bought insurance before travelling abroad.

This person didn’t buy insurance but wishes they did (probably because they now need it).

  • She should’ve listened to me when I told her to install anti-virus software.

She didn’t listen and presumably something bad has happened that meant she regrets not doing so.

  • He should’ve brought an umbrella with him.

He didn’t bring an umbrella and it is likely now raining, so he will regret his choice.

Negative Form: Should Not Have

The opposite of “should have” is “should not have.” Again, there are two versions:

  1. Should not have
  2. Shouldn’t have

Actually, if you want to get really informal, there is a third:

  • Shouldn’t’ve

It’s a little strange to see two apostrophes in one word, but we do tend to abbreviate this phrase in common speech, so it makes sense.

We use “should not have” to show that something did happen and that we regret it. For example:

  • I shouldn’t have eaten so much!

This person has eaten too much and they feel bad about it.

  • You shouldn’t’ve spoken so rudely!

This person has spoken rudely and it was the wrong thing to do.

Using Should Have In IELTS

As I mentioned above, there are two ways to say this:

  • Should have = formal
  • Should’ve = informal

As such, if you use this structure in the writing test, you should use “should have” because you need to avoid abbreviated forms and other types of informal language.

For the speaking test, however, “should’ve” would be perfectly fine because we can use conversational (ie informal) language here.

It is possible that you could use “should have” in the writing test when talking about issues relating to the environment. Let’s say you were asked about the damage humans have done to the world. You might say:

  • Governments should have taken action earlier to prevent the destruction of the world’s coral reefs.

Here, we have used the formal version:

  • Should have + past participle

It is more likely, however, that this sort of language would be needed in the speaking test because it is often used in a personal sense. For example, if you were asked about your childhood, you could say:

  • I should’ve spent more time with my friends when I was young, instead of staying indoors playing computer games.

This is really the most common use of “should have” (or “should’ve”). I think there are many ways that you could incorporate it into the speaking test and if you can use it well, then it could definitely show the examiner that you have a good grasp of grammar.

Other Uses of Should Have

Note that this article has been about “should have + past participle,” meaning a regret for something that didn’t happen in the past.

However, there is another use that we have not focused on today and that is simply “should” as a modal verb and then “have” as a regular verb. For example:

  • He should have the package by now.
  • Your computer should have at least 8gb of RAM.
  • You should have a first aid kit in your house.

In this situation, we cannot abbreviate “should have” to “should’ve.”

This is comparatively straightforward and is quite different to the grammar discussed above, so I will not go into any more detail here, but if you have any questions then please leave them as comments below.