What’s the exact meaning of “You should have passed the exam.”?

You should have passed the exam.

Can be understood as:

  1. You are very smart; the exam is very easy for you; but you didn’t
    pass the exam.

  2. You are very lazy; the exam wasn’t that hard for you, but you failed.

How to correctly use should in many contexts like this?


Answer to “Can you elaborate how you arrive at the second interpretation?”

google “define:should”, the first result tells us:

  1. used to emphasize to a listener how striking an event is or was. “you should have seen Marge’s face”

    emphasizing how surprising an event was.
    “I was in this shop when who should I see across the street but Tobias”


Modal verbs are tricky because the same modal can have different interpretations. Without context, we cannot be certain which situation is being expressed. For example,

You could have passed the exam

a. (Sympathetic) The candidate had the ability and capability to pass the exam but he/she didn’t.
b. (Disapproving) The candidate didn’t pass because he/she didn’t study hard enough.
c. (Objective) The candidate had the opportunity to pass the exam, but failed. We do not know why.
d. (Suggestion) The candidate never sat the exam but if they had, they might have passed.

Likewise for should

You should have passed the exam.

a. (Surprised) The exam was relatively easy for anyone to pass, but the candidate failed.
b. (Obligation) The candidate had to pass, but he/she didn’t.
c. (Disapproving) Although the exam was within the candidate’s ability, he/she failed.
d. (Deduction/incredulity) Despite all expectations, and the candidate’s preparation, he/she failed the exam

Only greater context will tell the listener which of the scenarios listed above is meant.

Source : Link , Question Author : xmllmx , Answer Author : Mari-Lou A

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