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Understanding and Using Modal Verbs (#23), by Dennis Oliver

 

Modal Verbs #23:
Individual Modal Verbs

 

The English modal verbs are often challenging for learners
of English. This happens for many reasons, including both
grammar and meaning.

In this Hint, we'll see another use for should.


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Should #3:
"If" clauses before requests or suggestions

 

The modal auxiliary should has several uses. We've just seen
that one common one is in showing
advisability--showing
that something is a good idea.
Another use for should is in
showing
expectation--using information that is already known
in order to make a "best guess," based on the information,
on what one
expects to happen (or what one expects not
to happen.

Another common use for should happens when requests
or
suggestions are proceeded by an "if" clause:

If Bob should call, tell him that
the meeting is at 10:00 AM.

If Bob should call, you might ask if
he'd like to join us for dinner.

In sentences such as this, should shows a remote possibility.
The speaker or writer doesn't really expect what is shown
after
should to happen, but realizes that it might happen.


More examples:


If I should fall asleep, please wake me at 7:30.

(The speaker / writer doesn't really expect to fall asleep,
but he / she knows it is still a possibility. The "if" clause
could also be written "If I
happen to fall asleep"
with no change in meaning.)

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If we should have any extra time, we might want to
go out for dinner.

(The speaker / writer doesn't really expect to have any
extra time, but he / she knows that it is still a possibility,
and if it happens, the speaker / writer suggests going
out for dinner. The "if" clause could also be written
"If we
happen to have any extra time" with no change
in meaning.)

_____________________________________


If you
should see Jane, tell her that Mr. Kraft
wants to see her.

(The speaker / writer doesn't really expect that the person
he / she is speaking or writing to will see Jane, but still
knows that it is a possibility. The "if clause " could also
be written "If you
happen to see Jane" with no change
in meaning.)


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Special Notes:

1,  

Sentences such as those above can also be written
or spoken without
should:

If I should fall asleep . . . /
If I fall asleep

If we should have any extra time . . . /
If we have any extra time

If you should see Jane . . . /
If you see Jane.

The version without should is more direct and
abrupt, however, than the version with
should.
In requests, therefore, the effect with
should is
"softer," less certain, and less demanding.

     
2.  

When should is used in an "if" clause to show
a remote possibility, "if" is often deleted, and the
subject and
should are then stated or written
in
inverted order:

If I should fall asleep ----->
Should I fall fall asleep

If you should see Jane ----->
Should you see Jane

If we should have any extra time ----->
Should we have any extra time

In speaking, this variation on "If _____ should"
is used only in very formal situations, but in
writing, this variation on "If _____ should" is
commonly used as an ending to business letters:

Should you need further information,
please don't hesitate to contact us.

Should you have further questions,
please feel free to ask.


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Next: more on modal verbs

 

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