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English as a Second Language/Some cases of the use of must

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QUESTION: Hello Shannon,

Please check my examples and interpretations.

"They must send messages through another server"  probably they send messages through another server
"They must send messages through another server"  now they use the "wrong" server
"Next month they must (will have to?) send messages through another server"

"He must be at home"
"He must have done the work"
If the sentences are associated with the present, the speaker expresses the idea that the circumstances point to the fact that he is at home, that he has done the work.

"He should be at home"
"He should have done the work"
If the sentences are associated with the present, the speaker consider that the hypothetical facts "he is at home", "he has done the work" are, to say, "correct".

ANSWER: Hi Nikolay,

1.  #2 and #3 are correct.  #1 wouldn't be structured like that.  Instead we would say, "They must have sent the messages through another server."

2. That's right, but the use of must would also indicate that it is a belief held by the speaker.  In other words, the speaker is 95% sure, but there still exists some doubt.

3. Well, in the case of "He should be at home," yes, with the present tense, you can have this meaning.  But in the past tense, you can't do this.  The past tense (and also a possible interpretation of the present tense) would be interpreted as an obligation or duty.

Hope this is helpful!

Shannon Cole
www.coleinstitute.com

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QUESTION: Hi Shannon,

Thank you very much for your answer.

In my example "They must send messages through another server" I mean the speaker expresses the idea that probably they send messages repeatedly. Maybe, proposing "They must have sent the messages through another server.", you regarded "send messages" as a single act? Is it correct to say "they must use an advanced technology" reflecting the thought that they probably do it?

And I am afraid I did not understand correctly your comment "The past tense (and also a possible interpretation of the present tense) would be interpreted as an obligation or duty." regarding "He should have done the work" associated with the present. Could you like to clarify it?

ANSWER: 1. Ah, I see.  Yes, you could use it that way, but to be clearer, you should say, "They must be sending messages through another server."

2. "He should have done the work" = "He ought to have done the work" = "It was his duty to do the work, but he did not do it."   As you can see, some expressions can actually have opposite meanings.  In this particular case, to clarify we are talking about conjecture and not obligation, it would be best to put a time period after it, such as "He should have done the work by now."

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QUESTION: Hi Shannon,

Again a question :-)

You wrote: "to clarify we are talking about conjecture and not obligation, it would be best to put a time period after it, such as "He should have done the work by now.""

It follows from your explanation that "He should have done the work last week." refers to conjecture. Does this mean that "should have done" can not be used for expression of the idea that "It was his duty to do the work last week, but he did not do it."?

Answer
Sorry...it's a holiday here and I think I didn't think this through.  Yes: "It was his duty to do the work last week, but he did not do it." = "He should have done the work last week."  However, after some reflection, it could also be the other way!  "He should have done the work last week." = "I believe he finished it last week."

"He should have done the work." = He was obligated to do the task  OR I believe he did the task.

This may be helpful, but again, there are some variations:
He SHOULD have done the work last week. (If you emphasize "should," this normally expresses conjecture).
He should have done the work LAST WEEK. (Emphasizing "last week" makes it sound like he didn't do it).

To avoid ambiguity, you would need to use something other than "should."  Should can express conjecture, and it can also express obligation.  Sometimes it can be both, and other times it can only be one.

"He should be at home." (both)
"The watch should operate correctly now." (conjecture)
"You should go to bed." (obligation)

I'm afraid there really isn't a short-cut for this grammar point.  It's based in the definition of the word "should"; see http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/should

Sorry for the false hope!
Shannon  

English as a Second Language

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Shannon Cole

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I can answer questions related to learning the English and Spanish language.

Experience

I have taught ESL and Spanish since 1998 at the university and middle school levels. I am a native of the U.S., and have taught in both the U.S. and Mexico.

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I am owner and operator of www.coleinstitute.com, an online language school.

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Georgia TESOL in Action (1999)

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B.A. in Spanish; M.Ed. in Language Education

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I have clients worldwide, some who want their documents proofread, and others who take lessons with me through the Internet. Some work at high-profile companies and government organizations. Besides the U.S. and Mexico, my recent students come from South Korea, Switzerland, Turkey, Colombia, Russia, Italy, Paraguay, China, Japan, the Philippines, and Saudi Arabia.

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