This is what I'm thinking:


pm. "cannot but, have to" this seems colloquial, and the fact that dictionaries think of this as a set phrase/fixed expression makes me think so. Also feels like the "can't help but" of 忍不住.


adv. "must, have to" this feels to me like it might be formal, is that right?


adv. "have to, have no choice but, be forced to" this sounds begrudging, like you have to or must, but don't really want to.


aux. "should, ought to, must" I think I usually hear this more often to mean "should, ought to" and not really as must, but I'm not that sure.

Can anybody clarify where I'm right and where I'm wrong in my thinking?

Thanks muchly

7 Answers 7


不…不… is more likely a language structure. There are 不能不,不想不,不好不 as well,they all mean have to do sth. and all of them are emphasizing that I originally not mean to do but under the circumstance I must do.

(I have to leave my hometown to make a living)

(We have to say his work is fantastic)

(Anyone who is a businessman doesn't want to make money?)

(As he is my teacher,it seemed not so well to refuse him)

(1)It's reasonable for you have to do sth.

学习~刻苦钻研((I/We) must study hard)

(2)Stress the imperative mood.

明天你~来(You must come here tomorrow)

应该 is a auxiliary verb.
(1)take for granted.

(We should protect public property.)

(2)estimate sth. must be...

Leaving home so early today, I won't be late.

只好,adverb. have no choice but.

(Waited for him for such a long time, I had no choice but to leave a note and then walk away)

Some parts maybe confusing to understand, this is a common issue for starter. The more usage you know about a word or phrase, the easier for you to know about the whole system and how it works.


One sentence help you memorize them.


You should figure out that the differences between them,although you are not obliged to do that, otherwise when you need them, you have to check dictionary, or you would have no choice but to ask someone.


The most parts you think are exactly correct. And there is a few advice:

不得不 is used more often in writing than oral.

只好 is almost equal to have no choice but and 只能 is similar to have to. 只好 in many conditions do not have force meaning.

  • 1
    Would "you might as well" be a good fit for 只好? Jan 27, 2015 at 16:01
  • @Vanessa When I learn English , almost every see you might as well as 你最好. 只好 is used for myself mostly and you might as well is used for other people.
    – zzy
    Jan 28, 2015 at 1:07

不得不 - implies there is some awful consequence if you do not do it 必须 - has something to do with comply to rules or policies 只好 - informal 应该 - this is the most different one, the notes in your OP is 100% right about it


不得不have to

只好=can only/have to




不得不: literally, "cannot but," as in "I cannot but admire your talent."

必須: "must," as in "By regulation, you must submit your form in triplicate."

只好: "can only" or "be left only to," as in "Having lent my car to my father, I can only walk home."

應該: "should," as in "If you want to succeed, you should practice more."


As a chinese , I guess that there is barely no difference between 不得不 and 必须 in my daily life when I use them.But 只好 and 应该 ,they are different.


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