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Sollen/Sollten and confusion with should

I'm really confused about Duolingo's use of sollen and sollten. I learned in another course (taught by a native speaker) that sollen should only be used if you are reporting something that someone with authority told you to do, or if you are discussing a situation where a well-known fact is in play. For example, using the sentence I just had in Duolingo, "Ich soll in den Garten gehen": you could only really use that sentence in the context of something like your recent visit to the doctor who said to you, "Gehen Sie oft in den Garten" because you're not getting enough sunlight, and when you get home, someone who knows that you went to see the doctor asks you what he told you to do and you reply, "Ich soll in den Garten gehen". Whereas if you're just standing at the window looking outside, and you think to yourself, "Wow, it's a really nice day. I should go into the garden!", then you would use sollten, along the lines of: "Es ist sehr nett draussen. Ich sollte in den Garten gehen!"

In other words, sollen is only used for reporting orders, while sollten is used for suggestions or advice (e.g. "Was machen wir heute?" "Wir sollten ins Kino heute gehen"), and neither one is really used as a direct translation of the English 'should', which tells of your future actions if some condition is fulfilled. (Of course, to add to my confusion, English speakers, myself included, rarely use 'should' properly in our own language, tending rather to employ it as a synonym for 'ought to', which usage is perhaps closer to the usage I understand for 'sollten'. headdesk)

Duolingo has not only not made a distinction between these two circumstances in the exercises, but also allows sollen to be translated as 'shall', which is a totally different verb mood in English, with very different usage from 'should'!

Am I misunderstanding the native usage of these verbs? Is Duolingo wrong? I was just starting to wrap my head around how and where to use these two in my other course and now having to answer Duolingo's versions is really confusing me. Can anyone (especially a native German speaker) shed some light on this subject for me please?

June 2, 2018



It is very difficult for me to discuss these matters as general topics because I'm a "naive native" who uses her native language according to intuition, not according to rules.

I generally agree with what you describe in your first paragraph, but I think an additional, "future", variant of "sollten" is possible.

Heike: "Werde ich bis zu meinem Urlaub im Dezember Norwegisch lernen können?" -- Heikes Freundin: "Das sollte wohl möglich sein!" (This should be possible.)

I think this reflects what you say

and neither one is really used as a direct translation of the English 'should', which tells of your future actions if some condition is fulfilled.

(The condition being that I spend a lot of time studying Norwegian until December ;-))

In most cases, I would probably translate "shall" as a form of "müssen" .

Overall, I think that the lines are not very clear, and subtle nuances may be expressed by using one or the other, depending on the situation and the context.

(Looking at what I've written, I'm not sure if it helps, but it's the best I can do right now. Let's wait for others to chime in. :-))


I agree with both of you and dare not enter into a discussion about shall and should :)

However, there is another use of "sollen", as in "Morgen soll das Wetter schön werden." Meaning, "I read/heard somewhere that the weather is going to be nice tomorrow." Or a feeble, resigning "Dann soll es wohl so sein."

In both cases there is an "authority" involved, but it is not an order.


Well, first of all, the German verb "sollen" can be translated into "shall" and "should". You could also use "to be supposed to" or "ought to" to express what someone should do.

You can say: Er soll in den Garten gehen. It expresses the wish that he should go to the garden ( and not to another place).

Die Kinder sollen ihre Zimmer aufräumen. = The kids should tidy up their rooms. OR The kids have to tidy up their rooms.

The verb "sollen" can also be used to express that someone is supposed to do something.

So, sollen is used to express:

  1. a demand note, somebody ought to do, should do or has to do

  2. an advice, you'd better do this,

  3. an offer to help, shall I help you?; may I help youß

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