What are the differences between

Das sollst du nicht.

Das solltest du nicht.

Am I correct in understanding that the "solltest" version sounds more polite than the "soll" version, like you're giving an recommendation rather than a command?

(Note: The thread here is related, but I believe the change from first-person to second-person makes this question different.)

3 Answers 3


The verbal form „soll“/„soll nicht“ (“shall”/”shall not”) is used to indicate requirements strictly to be followed and from which no deviation is permitted. German standards (e.g. DIN) prefer „muss“/„darf nicht“, whereas English standards do not use “must” as an alternative for “shall” in order to avoid any confusion between the requirements of a standard and external statutory obligations. Other equivalent expressions are „ist zu”, „ist erforderlich”, „es ist erforderlich, dass”, „lediglich … ist zulässig”, „es ist notwendig” / „ist nicht zulässig [erlaubt][gestattet]”, „ist unzulässig”, „ist nicht zu“, „es hat nicht zu“.

The verbal form „sollte“/„sollte nicht“ (“should”/”should not”) is used to indicate that among several possibilities one is recommended as particularly suitable, without mentioning or excluding others, or that a certain course of action is preferred but not necessarily required, or that (in the negative form) a certain possibility or course of action is deprecated but not prohibited. Other equivalent expressions for use in exceptional cases are „es wird empfohlen, dass …”, „ist in der Regel …” / „wird nicht empfohlen”, „sollte vermieden werden”.

A document does not in itself impose any obligation upon anyone to follow it. However, such an obligation may be imposed, for example, by legislation or by a contract. In order to be able to claim compliance with a document, the user needs to be able to identify the requirements he/she is obliged to satisfy. The user also needs to be able to distinguish these requirements from other provisions where there is a certain freedom of choice.

Clear rules for the use of verbal forms (including modal auxiliaries) are therefore essential.

Source: ISO/IEC Directives — Part 2: Rules for the structure and drafting of International Standards (2011-04)


Du sollst nicht töten.

This is one of the ten commandments of the Bible. It is like an imperative.

Arzt: Sie sollten nicht rauchen.

Recommendations are given in this form.


The difference between „sollst“ and „solltest“ is that “solltest” is the subjunctive mood (zu deutsch.: Konjunktiv) of the verb “sollen”. It not necessary have to do something with been polite.

  • 1
    Meinen Sie "it does not necessarily have to do anything with being polite"?. (I'm not trying to be rude). Oct 20, 2014 at 17:05

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.