Expressing ‘Should’ in Chinese with 应该 (yīnggāi): The Essential Guide

Expressing Should in Chinese with 应该 (yīnggāi)

应该 (yīnggāi) is one of the most important modal verbs in Chinese. In many ways, it works like the English word “should”, but still there is some difference, which could be somewhat confusing for Chinese beginners.

Have no fear if that happens to be your case. In this post, you’ll learn how to say “should” in Chinese with 应该 (yīnggāi), and more importantly, how to use the word properly in different scenarios. We’ll also look at 应当 (yīngdāng) and 该 (gāi), two other ways of saying “should” in Chinese and compare their differences.

At the end of this post, you’ll be able to use 应该 (yīnggāi) like a pro, guaranteed!

Let’s get started!

Use 应该 (yīnggāi) with Verbs

应该 (yīnggāi) directly translates to the English word “should”. You can use it before a verb or verb phrase in Chinese, similar to the way you use “should” in English. This is a word you should get comfortable using right away!

Pattern

应该 (yīnggāi) + verb/verb phrase

Just as the English “should”, 应该 (yīnggāi) can be used to express

1. obligation or duty (advice or suggestion)

  • 应该相信我。
    Nǐ yīnggāi xiāngxìn wǒ.
    You should trust me.
  • 应该去看医生。
    Nǐ yīnggāi qù kàn yīshēng.
    You should go see a doctor.
  • 应该多说中文。
    Nǐ yīnggāi duō shuō zhōngwén.
    You should speak more Chinese.
  • 应该给她打电话。
    Nǐ yīnggāi gěi tā dǎ diànhuà.
    You should call her.
  • 吃饭前应该洗手。
    Chīfàn qián yīnggāi xǐ shǒu.
    (You) should wash hands before eating.
  • 我们应该早点来。
    Wǒmen yīnggāi zǎo diǎn lái.
    We should have come earlier.
  • 应该和她一起去。
    Nǐ yīnggāi hé tā yìqǐ qù.
    You should have gone with her.
  • 所有人应该待在家。
    Suǒyǒu rén yīnggāi dāi zài jiā.
    Everybody should stay at home.
Use 应该 (yīnggāi) to indicate obligation or duty in Chinese

2. probability or expectation

  • 应该是谣言。
    Zhè yīnggāi shì yáoyán.
    This should be a rumor.
  • 明天我应该在公司。
    Míngtiān wǒ yīnggāi zài gōngsī.
    I should be at the office tomorrow.
  • 汽车应该马上到了。
    Qìchē yīnggāi mǎshàng dào le.
    The bus should be arriving soon.
  • 这条裤子应该太小了。
    Zhè tiáo kùzi yīnggāi tài xiǎo le.
    This pair of pants should be too small.
  • 我的邻居应该肯帮我。
    Wǒ de línjū yīnggāi kěn bāng wǒ.
    My neighbor should be willing to help me.
  • 那个人应该会说英语。
    Nàge rén yīnggāi huì shuō yīngyǔ.
    That guy should be able to speak English.
  • 我们应该能在八点前到。
    Wǒmen yīnggāi néng zài bā diǎn qián dào.
    We should be able to arrive before 8’o clock.
  • 这些食物应该可以吃一个月。
    Zhè xiē shíwù yīnggāi kěyǐ chī yí gè yuè.
    These foods should be good (for eating) for a month.

Use 应该 (yīnggāi) with Adjectives

Alternatively, 应该 (yīnggāi) can be followed up by an adjective or adjectival phrase in Chinese to express obligation, duty, as well as probability or expectation.

Pattern

应该 (yīnggāi) + adjective/adjectival phrase

  • 应该勇敢一些。
    Nǐ yīnggāi yǒnggǎn yìxiē.
    You should be braver.
  • 应该更积极。
    Nǐ yīnggāi gèng jījí.
    You should be more positive.
  • 应该非常难过。
    Tā yīnggāi fēicháng nánguò.
    She should be very sad.
  • 这个孩子应该很聪明。
    Zhège háizi yīnggāi hěn cōngmíng.
    This kid should be very smart.
  • 一千元应该够了。
    Yìqiān yuán yīnggāi gòu le.
    One thousand CNY should be enough.
  • 飞机应该晚点了。
    Fēijī yīnggāi wǎndiǎn le.
    The flight should be late.
Use 应该 (yīnggāi) with Adjectives in Chinese

Use 应该 (yīnggāi) in Short Answers

In spoken Chinese, 应该 (yīnggāi) is often added before the short answer to  the 吗 (ma) question to indicate it’s a reasonable guess. It can be roughly translated as “likely” in English.

  • 他是美国人吗?
    Tā shì Měiguó rén ma?
    Is he American?

    应该是。
    Yīnggāi shì.
    Likely. (should be)
  • 他认识你吗?
    Tā rènshi nǐ ma?
    Does he know you?

    应该认识。
    Yīnggāi rènshi.
    Likely. (should know)
  • 你订的酒店有无线吗?
    Nǐ dìng de jiǔdiàn yǒu wúxiàn ma?
    Does the hotel you booked have wi-fi?

    应该
    Yīnggāi yǒu.
    Likely. (should have)
  • 这里可以飞无人机吗?
    Zhèli kěyǐ fēi wúrénjī ma?
    Can I fly a drone here?

    应该可以。
    Yīnggāi kěyǐ.
    (It) should be okay.
  • 我们能在八点前到吗?
    Wǒmen néng zài bā diǎn qián dào ma?
    Can we arrive before 8’o clock?

    应该没问题。
    Yīnggāi méi wèntí.
    (It) should be no problem.
  • 这个尺寸合适吗?
    Zhège chǐcùn héshì ma?
    Does this size fit?

    应该差不多。
    Yīnggāi chà bu duō.
    (It) should be close enough.
Use 应该 (yīnggāi) in Short Answers in Chinese

How to Say ‘Should Not in Chinese

Learning to say “should not” in Chinese requires a little more attention than learning to say ‘should’. This is because there are two ways to negate the sentence in which 应该 (yīnggāi) is used, depending on what this “should” is referring to.

Let’s look at them in detail.

Add Negation Word before 应该 (yīnggāi)

When 应该 (yīnggāi) is used to express obligation or duty (advice or suggestion), you can negate it by simply adding the negation word 不 (bù) before it.

  • 不应该相信他。
    Nǐ bù yīnggāi xiāngxìn tā.
    You should not trust him.
  • 不应该给她打电话。
    Nǐ bù yīnggāi gěi tā dǎ diànhuà.
    You should not call her.
  • 不应该待在家。
    bù yīnggāi dāi zài jiā.
    You should not stay at home.
  • 我们不应该来这么早。
    Wǒmen bù yīnggāi lái zhème zǎo.
    We should not have come so early.
  • 不应该绝望。
    bù yīnggāi juéwàng.
    You should not be desperate.
  • 不应该那么粗鲁。
    bù yīnggāi nàme cūlǔ.
    He should not have been so rude.

Add Negation Word after 应该 (yīnggāi)

When 应该 (yīnggāi) is used to express probability or expectation, you need to add the negation word after it instead. Essentially, you are negating the probability or expectation, not the modal verb 应该 (yīnggāi) per se.

The negation word can be  不 (bù) or 没 (méi), depending on the tense. In English, however, the structure is usually translated as “may not”, rather than “should not”.

Let’s see some examples.

  • 应该不是谣言。
    Zhè yīnggāi bú shì yáoyán.
    This may not be a rumor. (should not)
  • 明天我应该不在公司。
    Míngtiān wǒ yīnggāi bú zài gōngsī.
    I may not be at the office tomorrow. (should not)
  • 应该没听过这个故事。
    Nǐ yīnggāi méi tīng guò zhège gùshi.
    You may not have heard of this story. (should not)
  • 我的邻居应该不肯帮我。
    Wǒ de línjū yīnggāi bù kěn bāng wǒ.
    My neighbor may not be willing to help me. (should not)
  • 那个人应该不会说英语。
    Nàge rén yīnggāi bú huì shuō yīngyǔ.
    That guy may not be able to speak English. (should not)
  • 一千元应该不够。
    Yìqiān yuán yīnggāi bú gòu.
    One thousand CNY may not be enough. (should be not)
How to Say Should Not in Chinese

A More Formal Word for should in Chinese: 应当 (yīngdāng)

Now, although it’s not used very often in regular conversational Chinese, there is actually a more formal way of saying “should” in Chinese: 应当 (yīngdāng).

应当去看医生。
Nǐ yīngdāng qù kàn yīshēng.
You should go see a doctor.

应当 (yīngdāng) works the same as 应该 (yīnggāi). It just sounds more serious. Just as 应该 (yīnggāi), it can be used to express obligation, duty, as well as probability or expectation, therefore, the two words are completely interchangeable.

Feel free to use this word when you write articles or give a lecture in Chinese. In casual conversation, however, it could sound a bit too strong and preachy.

  • 所有人应当待在家。
    Suǒyǒu rén yīngdāng dāi zài jiā.
    Everybody should stay at home.
  • 那个人应当会说英语。
    Nàge rén yīngdāng huì shuō yīngyǔ.
    That guy should be able to speak English.
  • 这个孩子应当很聪明。
    Zhège háizi yīngdāng hěn cōngmíng.
    This kid should be very smart.
  • 不应当给她打电话。
    Nǐ bù yīngdāng gěi tā dǎ diànhuà.
    You should not call her.
  • 一千元应当不够。
    Yìqiān yuán yīngdāng bú gòu.
    One thousand CNY may not be enough. 
  • 应当可以。
    Yīngdāng kěyǐ.
    It should be okay.
  • 应当没问题。
    Yīngdāng méi wèntí.
    It should be no problem.
A More Formal Word for should in Chinese 应当 yīngdāng

Difference between 应该 (yīnggāi) and 该 (gāi) 

Many learners get 应该 (yīnggāi) and 该 (gāi) mixed up. They simply think of 该 (gāi) as the shortened, informal version of 该 (gāi), which is only partially true.

应该 (yīnggāi) and 该 (gāi) do have some similarities, but they are only 50% interchangeable. Let’s take a look at when you can and cannot replace 应该 (yīnggāi) with 该 (gāi) in your speech.

When Are 该 (gāi) and 应该 (yīnggāi) Interchangeable?

When you are using 应该 (yīnggāi) as the “should” to express obligation or duty, it can be shortened to 该 (gāi).

相信我。Nǐ yīnggāi xiāngxìn wǒ.
相信我。Nǐ gāi xiāngxìn wǒ.
You should trust me.

On this occasion, 该 (gāi) works the same as 应该 (yīnggāi). It just sounds less formal. You can use 该 (gāi) in spoken Chinese to keep sentences short and concise.

  • 我们早点来。
    Wǒmen gāi zǎo diǎn lái.
    We should have come earlier.
  • 勇敢一些。
    Nǐ gāi yǒnggǎn yìxiē.
    You should be braver.
  • 你不相信他。
    Nǐ bù gāi xiāngxìn tā.
    You should not trust him.
  • 他不那么粗鲁。
    Tā bù gāi nàme cūlǔ.
    He should not have been so rude.

When Are 该 (gāi) and 应该 (yīnggāi) NOT Interchangeable?

If you are using  应该 (yīnggāi) as the “should” to express probability or expectation, then you can’t shorten it to 该 (gāi).

× 这是谣言。
Zhè gāi shì yáoyán.

Stick to 应该 (yīnggāi) for what is probable.

 这应该是谣言。
Zhè yīnggāi shì yáoyán.
This should be a rumor.

  • × 那个人会说英语。
    Nàge rén gāi huì shuō yīngyǔ.

    √ 那个人应该会说英语。
    Nàge rén yīnggāi huì shuō yīngyǔ.
    That guy should be able to speak English.
  • × 一千元不够。
    Yìqiān yuán gāi bú gòu.

    √一千元应该不够。
    Yìqiān yuán yīnggāi bú gòu.
    One thousand CNY may not be enough. (should be not)
  • × 该可以。
    Gāi kěyǐ.

    √ 应该可以。
    Yīnggāi kěyǐ.
    It should be okay.
  • × 该没问题。
    Yīnggāi méi wèntí.

    √ 应该没问题。
    Yīnggāi méi wèntí.
    It should be no problem.

Additional Meaning of  (gāi): Time to/Time for

Besides working as the short “应该 (yīnggāi)” for obligation or duty, 该 (gāi) has an additional usage that 应该 (yīnggāi) cannot replace: express the request or command “Time to”, “Time for…”. 

吃晚饭了!
Gāi chīfàn le!
Time to eat dinner!

You will usually spot a 了 (le) at the end of the sentence when 该 (gāi) is used in this sense.

  • 起床
    Gāi qǐchuáng le!
    Time to get up!
  • 睡觉
    Gāi shuìjiào le!
    Time to go to bed!

  • Gāi zǒu le!
    Time to go!
  • 回家
    Gāi huí jiā le!
    Time to come home!
Additional Meaning of 该 (gāi) in Chinese

You can also use a pronoun or a person’s name directly after 该 (gāi). It can be translated as “It’s someone’s turn (to do something)”.


  • Gāi wǒ le!
    My turn! (time for me)
  • 你(洗碗)
    Gāi nǐ (xǐ wǎn) le!
    Your turn (to wash the dishes)! (time for you)
  • 现在大卫
    Xiànzài gāi Dàwèi le!
    David’s turn now! (time for David)

Recap: How to Say ‘Should’ in Chinese?

The word for “should” in Chinese is 应该 (yīnggāi). It can be used before a verb, verb phrase, adjective, or adjectival phrase in Chinese to express obligation, duty, probability, or expectation. 应该 (yīnggāi) can also be used as part of a short answer to a 吗 (ma) question to indicate likelihood. To say “should not” in Chinese, you need to put the negation word either before or after 应该 (yīnggāi) depending on what the word refers to.

应当 (yīngdāng) is a more formal way of saying “should” in Chinese. It’s completely interchangeable with 应该 (yīnggāi). 该 (yīnggāi), which is often considered to be the shortened, informal version of 应该 (yīnggāi), however, is only interchangeable with it when it’s used to express obligation or duty.

Finally, don’t forget to check other grammar articles on ImproveMandarin.Com’s Grammar Channel. Remember, grammar is the glue that holds the pieces of language together! 谢谢 (xièxie) for reading this post!