2

I understand that the form "sollten" sounds kinder/softer than "sollen" in a formal scenario. For example:

Sie sollten dieses Buch lesen.

However, does it make sense in questions, especially when I am refering to myself?

My question was triggered in a formal e-mail where I was asking about what I should do (advice). What would be better? Can they just be interchanged?

Was sollte ich machen?

or

Was soll ich machen?

1

The two variants can be interchanged, but come with nuances. In general ich soll has a more imperative connotation ("What am I supposed to do?", "What is my moral obligation to do?") and ich sollte is asking for an advice ("What is prudent to do?") But these nuances are weak. If you ask Was soll ich tun this will be understood as asking for advice, too.

Also be aware that ich sollte is not only 1. Pers. Sgl. Konjunktiv Präsens but can also be understood as 1. Pers. Sgl. Indikativ Präteritum.

  • Thank you! Do you use "tun" here because it sounds better or because "machen" is wrong? – MakisH Mar 2 '17 at 7:11
  • Oh, that was just fugacity of reading. Both "tun" and "machen" are as well correct as appropriate. – jonathan.scholbach Mar 2 '17 at 10:10

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