Lindsay McMahon
"The English Adventurer"

rude English you need to you should

When was the last time someone said to you “you should do something”?

How does it make you feel when someone says that?

In English we need to be careful about using the phrases “You should” and “You need to” because if they are used at the wrong time and with the wrong tone of voice they can sound bossy and rude.

Today we answer a listener question about these two words:

Wow, I need to say wow. I’ve changed my job month ago so I can hardly find some free time these days, but I could not live without your 

podcast. I’m a bit off the track and listening the older episodes now, that’s why my late reaction. 

This episode was simply perfect. Funny and with a surprise to me, so I have to write one question to you.  If there is something that must be done to be able to proceed with anything, is it rude to say ‘You NEED TO do this and that to get to some point’? Because if it is rude, I was rude many times and it’s something that was not intended. The sentence ‘you need to bla bla’ comes from the exact translation from my language where it is not rude. It’s just the way to guide someone to help him. Yeah, I could say “You should bla bla’, but this sounds more strict in my language.

So please, let me know if the sentence ‘you need to fill out this form to get the tickets’ is rude. Thanks a lot!



Our quick answer: Using “You need to” might be rude and it might not be rude.

It depends on:

  • Your relationship with the person (boss to employee, partner to partner, friend to friend, stranger)
  • The context- work, home, etc.
  • Your tone of voice
  • Content

In general you should be careful when you say “you should” and “you need to,” but just there I said “you should be careful of” and it’s fine.

Why? When it’s a situation of a teacher speaking to students it’s expected that the teacher will tell the students what they should do.


When should you avoid saying “you should” and “you need to”:

On the other hand, I will give an example of when “should/shouldn’t” felt quite rude and strong to me.

In my other company we are based in New York and we connect English tutors with students.

I had a student who bought the first package for her adult sister.

When it came to billing her for the second package, I sent a copy of the invoice to both her and her sister because I was busy and I didn’t think that she’d care if her sister saw it.

She wrote back to me and said “you shouldn’t have copied (name) on that invoice.”

That felt more like it should have come from a mother to a child or a school teacher to a kid.

I was a little bit offended by the wording of it but it’s possible that what she said was a direct translation from French and in French it might be perfectly fine.


So today we’ll assume we’re in a business context.

Let’s take “need to” and “should” and we’ll give you role plays  and show you when it would be okay and when it wouldn’t be okay to use “should and “need to” plus we’ll show you what you could say instead.


Role play 1:  Two colleagues, same level at work, sitting in a conference room working on a project

A: Okay so what’s the update on the venue? Have you booked it yet?

B: No I was going to call after today’s meeting.

A: (Be rude) You need to/ you should  to be more organized with these tasks.

B: Uh sorry. I’m doing my best.


Was this rude? Yes.


They are colleagues on the same level.

The tone of voice was the biggest problem. It sounded condescending (listen to the episode).


Better Role Play 1:

A: Okay so what’s the update on the venue? Have you booked it yet?

B: No I was going to call after today’s meeting.

A: You know, I am concerned that we’re getting behind on this task. What can we do?


Why is this better?

“I am concerned” shows how you are experiencing it.

You are owning your feelings and not pointing the fingers

Also using “what can we do?” is collaborative.


Role Play #2: An orientation training for new employees being held by the company trainer, teaching weekly payroll procedures

L: Excuse me I have a quick question.

M: Yes?

L: How do I record paid time off when I submit my payroll information every week?

M: Good question. If you have paid time off you need to select the blue button that says PTO and record the hours there.

L: Oh okay great I see. Thank you.


Was it okay to use “need to” in this case?

I think it was okay because it was a person of authority in an instructive position. Someone was teaching something objectively.


Role play #3: Two friends at Michelle’s kitchen table, talking about their dating lives

A: So Lindsay how was your date last night?

B: Oh it was great Michelle. We went to see a movie then we got an ice cream. I want to text him, but I don’t know if I should.

A: You definitely should. It sounds like you both had a good time.

B: Yeah? Hmmm maybe I will.

A: Yeah it will be a good test. If the guy doesn’t write you back for hours or even until tomorrow then you’ll know he’s not the one for you. You shouldn’t date people who are rude like that.


This is tricky!

The first one is okay. The friend is saying “you definitely should.” It’s encouraging. She is not giving hard and fast moral advice.

However, in the the next one it seemed like she was talking down to her  about what she should and should not do in dating.

It came off as a little bit rude and condescending.


What’s the takeaway for today?

The phrases “you should” and “you need to” are complicated.

It’s not so simple.


  • Learn chunks and listen to natives and when they do/do not use it
  • Focus on intonation
  • Learn alternative phrases
  • Think about context, relationship, situation
  • Think about the content and what you are saying


What questions do you have from today?

Let us know in the comments below.


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