Yeah, we Germans ask us why you have only one word for both. We would like to connect 'should' with 'would' or 'will' to show a subjunctiv but I have never seen such a construct for 'sollte' in English.
- Meine Mutter sagt, ich soll mehr essen. = My mother says: I should eat more.
- Meine Mutter sagt, ich sollte mehr essen.= My mother says: I should eat more.
....it is similar to the sentences below.
- Meine Mutter wünscht, dass ich mehr esse. (subjunctiv I)= My mother wishes, that I will eat more.
- Meine Mütter wünscht, dass ich mehr essen würde. (subjunctiv II)= My mother wishes, that I would eat more.
Nice explanation, Abendbrot. Consider this also: the English "should" in the sense of being a recommendation seems to best capture the sense of sollten, and the English "shall" is a good approximation of sollen. The distinction becomes more clear when one remembers that "shall" is more of a command--it is not optional. That sense is sometimes lost in modern usage, particularly because "shall" is not used all that frequently.
BTW: "My mother wish
es . . . "
Looking at the comments on this page, two thoughts:
My first thought: The difference between "sollen" and "sollten": My personal opinion is that English is the culprit here, misusing "shall" and "should" to the point where it appears that "sollen" and "sollten" have the "same" meaning - in English.
Myself, personally, I would try to use "shall" for "sollen" and "should" for "sollten" wherever possible.
A place where this may not be possible is where "shall" is used as a command in English, as in "you shall (do something)"; in English, this is supposed to be an even more binding set of instructions than "you must (do something)."
My second thought: Another part of sloppiness in English is its use of the verb "do." Comparing English to German and Spanish, I have come to realize that we use "do" as a helping verb, much like "can," "shall," "must," and "will."
Indeed, somewhere in history, we lost the ability to ask the simplest of questions: "Worked you?" or "Played you?" or "Paid you?" In every instance, in English, today, we have to say, "Did you work?" or "Did you play?" or "Did you pay?"
This, I believe, drives the confusion between "tun" and "machen" in German for English speakers. We are practically incapable of thinking of an action without adding the "helping" verb of "do."
In Spanish, it's "hacer," in German, it's "machen," and in either language, it's not really necessary to say that we "do" something.
And don't even get me started on "used to"!
There is not difference in meaning. "machen" sounds sometimes more active. It is sometimes normal to use "tun" instead of "machen" and the other way around. Especially for fixed phrases there is sometimes only one verb used and the people are not used to the other verb for those phrases.