‘Don’t have to’ vs ‘shouldn’t’

working remotelyYou don’t have to work such long hours, and you really shouldn’t

A couple of friends of mine both work remotely doing different jobs; one is a graphic designer and the other is a teacher. Their lifestyle is very flexible and works well for them as they manage their time according to their plans. However, sometimes they do seem like workaholics because their working hours can be late at night, meaning they miss out on plans we have together now and then. Our friend Jane said; “you don’t have to work such long hours you know, and you really shouldn’t!”

I thought that was a perfect sentence to help explain the difference between ‘don’t have to’ and ‘shouldn’t’, which are easily confused because ‘have to’ is the same as ‘must’. Unfortunately, ‘don’t have to’ is NOT the same as ‘must not’.

If you don’t have to do something it means it is not an obligation, but you can do it if you want to.

If you shouldn’t do something, you are advised against it by the speaker (this is their opinion).

So what Jane said could be translated as: “you are not obliged to work long hours, and in my opinion it is a bad idea”.

Consider this short conversation:

Dad, do we have to go to Church on Sunday? (this is the same as saying, Dad, must we go to church on Sunday?

No darling, we don’t have to. (this means we are not obliged to. It does NOT mean we must not go to church)

Shouldn’t is similar to must not but it is in the speaker’s opinion, so this creates confusion.

• You shouldn’t speak loudly in a library.
(This is advice, implying that it is wrong to speak loudly in a place which is quiet. It means the same if you say: ‘you mustn’t speak loudly in a library’)

• You shouldn’t drive drunk.
(This is advice – it is bad for you to drink a lot of alcohol in the speaker’s opinion. It means the same if you say: ‘you mustn’t drive when you’re drunk’)

These sentences don’t work with ‘don’t have to’:

• You don’t have to speak loudly in a library.
(This means you are not obliged to speak loudly in a library, but you can if you want to. This is incorrect because it is a rule that you mustn’t speak loudly in a library)

• You don’t have to drive drunk.
(This means you are not obliged to drive when you’re drunk, but you can if you want to. This is incorrect because it is the law that you cannot drive drunk)

I agree with Jane that you don’t have to be a workaholic just because you work from home. I’m not!

 
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