I shouldn’t have done it.

English learners have little difficulty using the basic English modal auxiliaries like can, should, might, etc. , but things get more complicated when talking about past situations.

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Note: Modal auxiliaries, but present and past forms, are covered in my book Understanding English verb forms: http://www.bangkokpost.com/learning/books/196206/understanding-english-verb-forms

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Using modals to describe past situations

You probably have little difficulty using the basic English modal auxiliaries like can, should, might, etc. and you can easily understand the difference between expressions like:

I can go.
I should go.
I might go.

The language gets more complicated when you talk about a past situation, however. Very few Thai speakers of English have ever used a sentence like “I shouldn’t have eaten so much popcorn at the movie.”

The idea is not difficult, however and here is a short video to get you started with understanding, and eventually using, modal auxiliaries in describing past situations.

The “actors” here are students from Sri Pathum university.

The situation is very clear. A young student walked in a room, approached her boyfriend and slapped him. Why? Because he forgot her birthday. The boyfriend quickly realises his mistake and says to himself: “I shouldn’t have forgot (or “forgotten”) her birthday”.

But he did –the time has passed by – and now he has a problem. Next time he should remember such an important date.

Let’s look at some more very short video–clip examples and talk about them. In each case, we will be talking about them after they have finished, so we will only use past forms of the verbs.


In the first video we see a bicyclist celebrate a certain (sure) victory – at least it seemed certain at the time.
Watch it and then we’ll talk about it.

First, what happened? A bicyclist celebrated by raising his hands before he reached the finish line. He lost his balance and fell and another bicyclist won the race.

Now give your opinion of what you have seen. Then try to use both “should” and “shouldn’t”. Remember that you are talking about a past event, so you will have to adjust the structure of the verb form. Keep your sentences short to make it easier for you. Possible answers are at the bottom of this page.

Naughty boy

Here's a very short clip of a naughty little boy.

What happened? A little boy suddenly hit the coffee cup his grandmother was drinking from, causing the coffee to spill on her dress. Now give your opinion, giving using a form of "should". Possible answers are at the bottom of this page.


Focus on the teen-aged boy in this short video clip. What did he do wrong?

What happened? A teen-age boy was boxing playfully with a younger boy when he looked away. As he did so, the little boy punched hard him in the face.

Now give your opinion, giving using a form of "should". Possible answers are at the bottom of this page.

Turn it off!

Let’s give some advice to the man who took this video.

What happened? A woman, the camera man’s mother, is riding in a car. She is carrying a cake. She opens the door and gets out and shuts the door. She doesn’t see that her dress is caught in the car’s door. The car drives off and rips her dress. She runs to the car and when the car door opens she loses her balance and falls heavily. She gets up and sees that her son is still filming. She gets angry and runs to her son and hits the camera.

Now give your opinion, using a form of  both "should" and “shouldn’t.  Possible answers are at the bottom of this page.

Possible answers.

You might have other ideas.


He should have finished the race before he celebrated.
He shouldn’t have celebrated before he finished the race.

Naughty boy

The little boy shouldn’t have hit his grandmother’s coffee cup/the cup his grandmother was drinking from.


The teenaged boy shouldn’t have looked away.

Turn it off.

The camera man should have stopped filming/turned his camera off.
The camera man shouldn’t have continued to film/kept filming

To further understand the past simple, read the chapter in Understanding English verb forms: Modal auxiliaries

You can find a full description of Understanding English verb forms here:


You can buy the book online here:



About the author

Writer: Terry Fredrickson
Position: Education Marketing and Support Manager