the cross of must and should


Just the other day a title, The Crossroads of Should and Must, grabbed my attention. A long lately it has been that the English modal verbs played havoc with my mind – in particular should and must. At this cross in the road I’ve been standing – rooted – taking no road.

Modal verbs are used to show likelihood, ability, permission, and obligation. Their functions range from possibility (may) to necessity (must) … for example, must developed after the strong obligation sense, whereas should developed after the weak obligation sense ... Thus said for the English tongue and pen. For my mother tongue, however, another cross of should and must appeared. With a grammar book in hand it’s easy to directly translate and pen the modal verbs. But, in every day conversation, Jan en Alleman (John and everyone) use one word for the two culprits – and that is the word “moet” (must).

At this crossroad I’ve been blaming myself for not being able to interpret some of life’s questions: Should I or must I? Do I have to or could I?  What do I have to? What should I? Might I rather want? Do I know what I want to? My mother tongue only told me one thing: I must.

But the grammar study forced me to ask – If Jan en Alleman, i.e. me, myself and I, out of rule and habit, use only the word must – could or might this use of language be partly responsible for the strong obligation sense that accompanies my every action? Where were all the possibilities hiding? Could I’ve been, have I been, carrying a double cross?

P1060053A not so simple grammar study quieted the havoc in my mind, and for the greater good, my soul. I’m letting go – letting myself off the super-ego should-and-must hook. Allowing myself the other possibilities reveal wants and needs. I’m slowly recognizing what I want to do – even if it’s done badly.

And now perhaps I’ll be able to ponder a few writers’ insights:

there are have to shoulds and choose to shoulds … shoulds and have to’s belong to someone else, wants belong to me… decisions are easily made when based on wishes rather than shoulds … shoulds produce a stable life but can deaden spontaneity … shoulds can rule one’s life …  eventually shoulds and abstract idealizations replaced wants and personal values… *

Dear reader, are you puzzled by should and must?

(I added a few thoughts for my mother tongue readers) …

… nou moet ek, hoekom moet ek? hare kloof tussen al die moete wat nie eintlik moete is nie … wil ek of wil ek nie. nee, ek moet… dan vra ek, hoekom moet ek, dan antwoord ek, ek weet nie, want in engels kan jy besluit tussen should, could, would, must. en ons kan nie. dis hoekom ons so strak, eng, pligsgetrou en bedonderd is… ons moet die heel tyd… en ons wil nie want ons weet nie wat ons wil nie…en wanneer ons weet wat ons wil word ons platgetrap deur deur hoewe, moere, ekskuus moete en moese – wat hare kry. en ons vertel onsself – ek MOET nou….en die woord MOET word so lank en deurdringend uitgespreek…soos iemand wat al badkamer toe moes gaan…of is dit wou gaan … wil wou. moet, moes, kan kon mens nou so vasgevang word in die moete van die self, die modale van die self? dat die wil nie kan of kon nie? maar kom ons eindig  – die moet is gebreek.

ok. ek weet dis nie perfekte skryf nie. ek’s nie perfek nie. en dis ok.

  • the thoughts were taken from a variety of books and articles I’ve read and not my own.

8 thoughts on “the cross of must and should

  1. Kinders julle is nou baie diep… Waar pas “behoort” in? Die eintlike ‘kruis’- ding? Dankie tog vir die ‘opstaan’-ding!
    So lekker om te lees…baie mooi..!

  2. Mmm.. Dit laat mens dink. Sus, jy is die eerste van vier…dis dalk hoekom ” moet” so swaar op jou lê. Jy was die voorbeeld vir ons ander om na te volg. Ek funksioneer meer op ” mag” —- baie meer versagtend as ” moet” en met n keuse daarby. Bygesê, mens is seker meer produktief onder beheer van ” moet” , as ” mag” – as produktiwiteit die maatstaaf is. Jy ” hoef ” nie met my saam te stem nie.
    Jou gedagtes laat my dink aan John Steinbeck se boek East of Eden en spesifiek die ontknoping van die Hebreeuse woord ” timshel”
    ” But the hebrew word timshel….’ thou mayest’…
    that gives a choice.
    It might be the most important word in the world.
    That says the way is open.
    That throws it right back on a man.
    For if ‘ thou mayest’ ‘, it is also true that ‘ thou mayest not.’
    – john steinbeck

  3. It’s always interesting to me that the way we think is limited or otherwise by our native language so I found this post fascinating.

    My life is far too full of what others seems to think ought to be musts and shoulds and I think are coulds and maybes.

  4. what a gift it is to read in your mother tongue. i imagine the sounds. and i am pulled in by your question, the shoulds and the musts of our lives….

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