Is there any difference between the three sentences?
October 23, 2013 6:36 AM   Subscribe

1)I should be going. 2) I shoud get going. 3)I should go. Please tell me the difference of the nuance between the three. Thank you.
posted by mizukko to Writing & Language (25 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
In use, they're all the same, a polite way of taking leave. The differences may be regional.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:40 AM on October 23, 2013

1) The decision to go was made in the past but I'm just re-recognising that. 3) The decision to go was made right now in reaction to something. 2) Colloquial.

Also, often very little difference truly, you're splitting hairs and a native speaker could say any of the above for any of the above reasons.
posted by jujulalia at 6:40 AM on October 23, 2013

Just my take, but:

#2 implies that you have a destination to get to ("I should get going if I want to get to the supermarket before it closes.")

#3 implies that you just want to leave the current place/situation. ("The game's over. I should go.")

#1 could go either way, I think.
posted by cabingirl at 6:41 AM on October 23, 2013 [6 favorites]

I'm from the East Coast of the US, in case it is in fact regional.
posted by cabingirl at 6:42 AM on October 23, 2013

1) The "be going" means soon, starting to say good-bye, friendly, no rush, moving along.
2) "get going" is most colloquial, also has a tone of "oops it is later than I thought!" You "get going" on a project you've deferred for example, so "I should get going" implicitly carries a bit of "it's later than I thought!"
3) I should go -- most immediate, most serious, most formal. "I should go" is what you would say if you need to go right now.
posted by third rail at 6:42 AM on October 23, 2013 [14 favorites]

Not much difference here (UK), but the first two give a more casual impression - suitable, perhaps, for a protracted goodbye between friends. The third one feels more immediate, and more suitable for someone leaving for dramatic reasons (caught screwing someone they shouldn't, trousers fell down at tea).
posted by emilyw at 6:43 AM on October 23, 2013 [5 favorites]

How I, personally, would use them:

1. I should start thinking about leaving, but could be persuaded to stay for another cup of tea/slice of cake/beer.

2. I need to leave and will begin gathering up my things and departing forthwith.

3. Something awkward/bad/uncomfortable has happened and I feel the strong desire to GTFO.
posted by coppermoss at 6:55 AM on October 23, 2013 [18 favorites]

I'm from the Eastern US, and I agree with third rail and emilyw.

The difference between the three is very minor but:

1. is slightly more formal, not very emphatic.

2. is not emphatic, more friendly/colloquial

3. is more emphatic, could be used in formal or informal situations. To my ears, it's kind of abrupt, could be considered rude depending on the social situation but most likely not.

Edit: copper above also has a good read on 3 I think.

These are very subtle differences though so the meanings depend very much on the situation.
posted by natteringnabob at 6:56 AM on October 23, 2013

I think I would use #1 if I meant I shouldn't stay in that place (...before I outwear my welcome), vs. #2 if there was someplace I needed to be (... before I make myself late). But they're pretty interchangeable.

For me, #3 is almost a politeness thing and an opportunity to be contradicted. It means "I probably shouldn't be here because of what's going on in the room at this moment."
posted by Mchelly at 6:58 AM on October 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm from the Midwestern US. They all essentially mean the same thing. #2 is the most common thing to say in social situations. #1 is fine, although if someone said "be" instead of "get", I'd wonder if they grew up outside the Midwest. #3 seems abrupt and, depending on the tone of voice, I'd wonder if the person saying it was angry or annoyed.
posted by neushoorn at 7:04 AM on October 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

OP, your questions about English usage are always so great.

1/2 are the same. The modal be and get are both informal here, and indicate that it's time for him/her to leave. "Be" is more formal than "get" but this is a pretty casual construction. Note that in this case, both phrasings refer to the present (or immediate future)--"in the next 5-10 minutes, I should be/get going."

Contrast this usage with "I should be ready at 6 pm" and "I should get ready at 6 pm"--the first indicates that the speaker will actually be ready (to go, to eat, to talk) at 6; the latter means that the speaker should begin to prepare (to go, to eat, to talk).

3 is more formal than 1/2, and the formality implies a level of gravity or seriousness. Imagine that the person the speaker is talking to has said something inappropriate! "I've always loved you, Mizzuko--hold me!" "Uh, I should go."

Also, keep in mind that 3, unlike 1/2 can be used to say that the speaker should attend an event, and not just leave where they are.

Scenario: It's getting late.
I should be going = I should go.

Scenario: There's an important meeting next week.
I should go [to the important meeting next week]--OK
I should be going [to the important meeting next week]--does not make good sense.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 7:08 AM on October 23, 2013 [5 favorites]

I should be going / I should get going – the person is politely saying they need to leave because it's getting late or they have something else they need to do (errands, an appointment or something).

I should go – the person is trying to decide whether to go to some event in the future and is saying they probably should go.

People sometimes say "I should go" instead of "I should be going" or "I should get going" to announce that they're leaving. Unlike the other two phrases, it doesn't imply that the person is leaving because they need to go somewhere else, so it could imply they feel like they've stayed too long or they're leaving because they feel uncomfortable, or something like that. (But it could just be a shorter way to say "I should be going".)
posted by nangar at 7:12 AM on October 23, 2013

I think the differences are very subtle, and in most contexts the sentences could be freely substituted for each other. The tone given by the speaker would swamp any subtle difference in the connotation, and could be used to communicate any of the implications offered by coppermoss, Admiral Haddock, and nangar.
posted by Jasper Fnorde at 7:19 AM on October 23, 2013

"Get going" also has a colloquial usage which means something like "get started"/start. So, I agree with others who have said that "I should get going" sounds like you have a destination - you need to "get going"/get started moving to the next thing.

Here's a scenario that shows the difference: You're sitting in the living room with some friends, but you know that you are going to start making dinner soon.

Friend: Let's watch TV!
You: I need to make dinner. I should get going.
(This one means I should start making dinner soon.)

Friend: Let's watch TV!
You: I need to make dinner. I should be going.
(This one means I should leave the living room soon.)

You can "get going" but not "be going" on lots of activities other than leavetaking. I can get going on a project (start the project), or get going ON my workout WITH a warmup (start my workout by first doing a warmup). If someone said "I need to be going on my project", that wouldn't make sense.

You can also use "get going" but not "be going" as a command - "You're late! Get going!" but not "You're late! Be going!"
posted by heyforfour at 7:47 AM on October 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

I like how coppermoss described the differences.
posted by Dansaman at 8:05 AM on October 23, 2013

To me (Eastern US), number 1 suggests that I do not want to leave, but I must, number 2 suggests that others do not want me to leave, but I want to leave. It can also be used in situations where I need to start doing something that does not require physically going anywhere ("I have a lot of homework. I should get going."). Number three is quite direct and suggests that some awkwardness or difficulty has occurred.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:06 AM on October 23, 2013

(East Coast of the US here, but many different regional dialectical influences for me: I grew up on Long Island, went to college in central New York State, lived in New England for 8 years after college, moved to northern Virginia and then to central Maryland -- I've been in the DC/Baltimore area for 5 years now)

To me, #1 and #2 are interchangeable, both suitable for initiating polite goodbyes between friends, and implying either the speaker wants to stay or others want him/her to stay, but he/she has somewhere else to be, something else to do, or is too tired to stay. #3 suggests something inappropriate has happened or something has offended/disgusted the speaker to the point where he/she no longer feels comfortable staying.
posted by tckma at 8:14 AM on October 23, 2013

As everyone upthread said, the differences are so subtle that they are nearly interchangeable.

One little thing I don't see upthread: "I should be /should get going" gives a little conversational opening to the person they're talking to; you're saying "I should prepare to leave," not "I am leaving right now."

Responses to "I should get going" could be: "Oh, please stay, we get to visit so rarely. Let's watch a movie!" Or, "Before you go, let me give you some of these cookies to bring home." Or, "All right, drive safely!" It gives the person who is not leaving a chance to encourage the person to stay or leave, and a chance to say anything else they wanted to say. There is a joke in the US about a "Minnesota goodbye", which is a situation where people are trying to leave but everyone is too friendly to finish the conversation and close the door. Under those circumstances, "I should be going" is very common.

On the other hand, saying "I should go" does not give that same opportunity. If I said "I should go" and my friend said "Oh, no, please stay!" that would be a mild violation of local social customs. I think that's why some people are describing it as the sentence they would say in an awkward situation, because it's something you say when you truly plan to leave right away. But it does not have to be said at awkward times. I might say it if I have an appointment, and I really needed to leave immediately.
posted by tchemgrrl at 8:21 AM on October 23, 2013 [3 favorites]

Life-long Californian here:

I'd need to hear how someone said "I should go." because, unlike most of the interpretations here my first thought is that it was said with some regret. For example, I could see having a fun time with someone but, knowing I had to get up early, saying "I should go." where it would be very clear that I would prefer to stay.
posted by Room 641-A at 8:42 AM on October 23, 2013

First reaction is that they are basically the same, but #3 is more curt and stern sounding to me. It could come off as abrupt. But if I really look at them:

1) I should be going. -- "Well, I guess it's time for me to leave now."
2) I should get going. -- "Well, I've got some other stuff I need to do."
3) I should go. -- "I don't want to be here anymore."

I am from NY.
posted by AppleTurnover at 11:47 AM on October 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

I agree with Room 641-A: I don’t think #3 is necessarily abrupt; in fact, I also associate it with regret, as in: I hate to leave, but I know I really should go [if i want to beat the traffic/make the show etc].

All 3 are interchangeable to me.
posted by yawper at 2:00 PM on October 23, 2013

"Get going" implies that there's urgency in your leaving, for example, because you've stayed too long. "We need to get going, we have a train to catch." "I've already spent way more time here than I should--I need to get going." As other people said, it can also mean "start". "I should get going on this project."

"I should be going" might slightly imply that you will be going soon, but not immediately, but it doesn't necessarily mean that--it's mostly neutral. "It's 11 o'clock. I should be going."

"I should go" could be used to mean a few things. For example, if "go" is used to mean "attend". "My cousin's party is next week. I should go." But if "go" is used to mean "leave" it's a slightly more formal version of the above two. Depending on your tone of voice, it can be used to emphasize the *should* element, like Room 641-A says, if said regretfully..."Oh, man, I'd love to stay, but I should go." Or it could emphasize the *go* element, like coppermoss says. For example, if people start talking about things you shouldn't hear in front of you. "Oh, you need to discuss the confidential material now? I should go."
posted by phoenixy at 2:21 PM on October 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm a west-coaster. I lean towards apple turnover's version.

You can inject more ambiguity into the statement if you want to leave the door open for an invitation to stay longer.

"I guess I ought the be getting ready to go pretty soon..." This hyperbolic example gets more imperative with each qualifier you take out. By the time you say "I must go now," your meaning is clear.

All of your examples can be neutral, depending on the context. In general, the shorter versions are more direct. Many folks would try to give the appearance of being reluctant to leave, thinking it to be a courtesy to the hosts. Sometimes the host will try to be courteous by asking the speaker to stay longer. This exchange can lead to misunderstandings, but people seem fond of it anyhow.

In any case, it would be a rare situation where the respondent will answer, "Yeah, good idea." If one of your hosts has just slapped the other across the face with a spatula, you could safely say "I should go," without being misunderstood as trolling for a second helping of pie. You'll probably be allowed to find your own way out.
posted by mule98J at 8:17 PM on October 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

All basically interchangeable except 'I should go' is more immediate and not as soft.

"I should get going" is generally what I would say to start wrapping up an evening or to indicate to a friend that they need to stop monologuing soon so that I can get off the phone. "I should be going" is similar. Either allows for a few more minutes of wrapping up.

If there's some reason I need to leave - say I have a responsibility elsewhere - and the person I'm with is encouraging me to shirk that responsibility and stay, I might say "No really, I should go." with tone/behavior to indicate that it's not negotiable and I'm already leaving. In general, "I should go" is something I would associate much more with someone who's going to promptly stand up, grab their things, and say their goodbyes.
posted by Lady Li at 11:13 PM on October 23, 2013

I could grasp the nuance of these phrases because so many people responded to my question.Thank you very much.
posted by mizukko at 9:02 PM on October 31, 2013

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