Difference Between Ought To and Have To

Edited by Diffzy | Updated on: September 21, 2022


Difference Between Ought To and Have To Difference Between Ought To and Have To

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It ought to have almost the same meaning when used in sentences. However, "ought to" is less common and not often used in conversations. These might occur for varying reasons. The most common observed reason for the low usage of "ought to" is that it is more formal and gives more of an unnatural feel in comparison to "have to". It has to be easy and convenient in its usage and pronunciation in conversations. The message can be easily passed to the listener by using simple words in a conversation. Different situations established by sentencing demand either word usage. Either of these words could be used unless they are used incorrectly. The main intention, differences, and usage examples of both "ought to" and "have to" compared are given below.

"Ought to" Vs. "Have to"

"Have to" has similar usage to that of "should" in sentences. "Have to" denotes an obligatory action to be performed, usually of greater importance or concern.

On the other hand, "ought to" is more flexible in its message and may not necessarily obligate an action. Instead, it provides possible results, outcomes, suggestions, and advice to the listener.

Difference Between"Ought to" and "Have to" in Tabular Form

Table: "Ought to" Vs. "Have to"
Main parameters of comparison
 Ought to
Have to
Word meaning
Indicates the possibility or likelihood of something about to occur.
It has only present and future references, and past forms do not exist.
Have to" is a verb that indicates the necessity of an action that must be performed.
1. To indicate the probability of something happening,
2. To make some educated guesses and offer suggestions
3. To offer advice to the listener.
1. To indicate a rule that must be followed by all.
2. To denote a predetermined outcome of an action
3. To indicate that certain conditions apply
1. To express a duty to do something.
2. To express the possibility of an event occurring3.
It can be used in affirmative, negative, and interrogative sentences.
1. To state that something is required by a rule of law.
2. Used to express that something is desired, must be completed or should be completed.
3. Used to express that something is extremely likely.4.
Used in various spoken phrases to emphasize a statement based on a person’s prior experience. 5.
Used in interrogatives or statements expressing authority or anger,
Might be, should, would, etc., can be used alternatively to "ought to" usage in sentences.
Should, must, to do, etc. can be used alternatively to ‘have to’ in sentences.
Common errors
1. We cannot combine the words "don't," "doesn't," or "didn't" with "ought to."
2. ‘Ought to’ should not be used in conjunction with another modal verb.3.
We cannot use "do," "do," or "did."
Have to" is often used interchangeably with "should." However, both usage forms are correct with different conditions.
1. She ought to reach the airport by 12 pm tomorrow.
2. We ought to have enough time to complete our work.
 3. The old man ought to be walked until he gets home.
4. He ought to invite her to the farewell party.
1. You have to finish completing the forms by tonight at the latest.
2. I have to admit that I made a mistake.
3. She must complete all of the segments she missed last week.
4. Nina has to be more kind to her colleagues.
 5. Lily has to quit this job if there is no one to take care of the kids.

What is "Ought to"?

When can you use "ought to" in a sentence?

The use of’ ought to’ has a similar application to that of should, but the only difference is that the former is used much less frequently. 

Some notes to remember while using "ought to" in sentences are listed below.

Both should and ought to have no past form. Instead, they only had used in the present and the future. 

‘ought to’ is used in question formats.

It ought to be used rarely in the negatives. 

In negatives, the word "not" is added between ought and to. 

In question form, the subject word comes between the words "ought" and "to."

Some sentence examples using "ought to" are given below:

I ought not to have said those things to her.

Should we make such a sacrifice for the benefit of future generations?

It may be used for the following purposes in a sentence:

To express an obligation to do something.

You ought to listen carefully.

We ought to leave now.

Lucy ought to go by herself.

People ought to be a bit nicer to us.

To express the possibility of something happening.

Anna ought to be here by now.

The journey ought to take about 4 hours.

Joe ought to have offered to help.

Abby ought to have told us what to expect.

The contracted negative form is oughtn’t.

We oughtn’t to have let that happen again to anyone else.

So, Zara ought to do something about the letter, shouldn’t she?

There can be different forms of expression using "ought to" in a sentence.


We ought to do more handwork.

Common mistakes made while using the word "ought to"

It shouldn’t be used with another modal verb.

For example, in the sentence"

"The supplies ought to be free."

The supplies should be provided for free.

The statement above is incorrectly used.

The negative form of the word "usage".

Usually, it is formed by adding "not" after ought (ought not to). It can be contracted to oughtn’t to

Common errors are observed here.

We can't use the words "don't," "doesn't," or "didn't" with "ought to":

We ought not to have ordered so many outfits.

We don’t have to order so many outfits.

You oughtn’t to have said that about his status.

You didn’t ought to have said that about his status.

The negative ought to not be commonly used in conversations.

The question form

The subject should change position to form questions. We cannot use the words "do," "do," or "did":

Should she call the fireman?

Does she ought to call the fireman?

Should we be more worried?

Do we need to be more worried?

Other examples of proper usage are:

They ought to have more shopping outlets in the city center.

We ought to drink a lot of water every day.

We ought to have locked the house. Then the thief wouldn’t have got 

I often think that I ought to have learned medicine, not mathematics.

Use ought to indicate a probability or likelihood of something that is going to happen in the future.

The concert ought to end by 2 pm.

By the end of this month, there ought to be some good shopping malls in the capital.

The distinction between ought to and should

-should or should not?

-ought to and should be similar in meaning when used in sentences.

In speaking, we can use should associate clauses with ought to in the sentences.

For example,

There ought to be a check post here, shouldn’t there? 

Correct use of grammar will be "There ought to be a check post here, oughtn’t there?"

Reasons why should be more often used in relation to ‘ought to’

Should be frequently used instead of "ought to" because it sounds more natural.

Instead, it ought to be more formal than it should be.

Another possible reason for its differences in usage is that more popular word usage is "should" rather than "ought to."

Should I report it to someone in authority?

Should I report the malpractice to the concerned?

Should I make the first move?


There ought to be more villagers staying here. 

Ana ought to be reaching her native country by noon today.

What is "Have to"?

‘Have to’ usually implies a deadline by which action should be attempted or completed.

"Have to" can be used to refer to something that is absolutely necessary, required, or must happen. 

Some sentence examples using the "have to" list can be:

He had to go to Germany for his further studies.

We'll have to find a taxi to take us to the airport.

You have to be careful what you say on telly.

They didn't have to pay additional money for the entry.

You have to abide by the rules.

I have to remember to stop at the neighbor's house.

Sentences with applications

It is used to say that something is required by a rule of law.

All passengers have to exit at the next stop.

Used to say that something is desired, must be done, or should be done.

You have to read it. It's a fantastic book.

You have to come to visit the doctor soon after you finish with the regimen.

Used to say that something is very likely.

His parents had to have a lot of money to live the way their son does.

She may have been mistaken.

Used in various spoken phrases to emphasize a statement based on a person’s prior experience.

I have to say, I was surprised to see him.

He is a talented actor, you have to admit.

Used in interrogatives or statements expressing authority or anger.

Do you have to be so irresponsible?

Why is it always me who does the household on weekdays?

‘Have to do’ phrase usage in sentences.

You can use it to talk about something that you are certain of happening or something that is usually followed or must be followed.

You have to do something immediately.

You must realize that it is necessary to have the patience to observe the result of your hard work.


She ought to attend the evening sessions.


She has to complete the lessons in the next two weeks.

Main Differences Between "Ought to" and "Have to" in Points

  • Word form

It ought to be a semi-modal verb because it is in some ways like a modal verb and in some ways like a main verb. 

 However, unlike modal verbs, it is followed by to.


ought to invite my parents.

It ought to be simpler now.

On the other hand, "have to" is an auxiliary verb.

  •  Commonality of usage

"Have to" is more common used in comparison to "ought to’, which is less popular during conversations.

  • Application of word usage

Have to’ may be used interchangeably with ‘need to’ or should, and hence implies a necessity of action that must be performed, which is usually concerning something important or more relevant.

 On the other hand, "ought to" is more often used in written communication only and is less popular. Also, the usage is to indicate a suggestion, advice, or probability that the speaker thinks about from his experiences.

  •  Synonyms

The words that can be used alternatively to "have to" are "need to," "should, etc.

The synonyms for "ought to" are "maybe and "might" Sometimes, it is also used for several indications.


 The words ought to and have to have a similar intention to that of the might or should. should imply to the listener that he may or may not take action. Whereas, involving an obligatory action that must be done may be of necessary importance and concern

The word "ought to" is a semi-modal verb, whereas "have to" is an auxiliary model verb.

"Ought to" is less often observed in conversations, compared to "have to." It is usually used only in written communications, and it should be more common in spoken communication. ought to be common in informal communications, whereas it ought to be more common in formal communications.

Words can be used alternatively in sentences, but it is important that there is correct grammar implication while using them in different sentences.



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"Difference Between Ought To and Have To." Diffzy.com, 2023. Sun. 29 Jan. 2023. <https://www.diffzy.com/article/difference-between-ought-to-and-have-to-171>.

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