If it should be winter, I would go skiing.

Discussion in 'English Only' started by yukinohana, Feb 26, 2009.

  1. yukinohana Senior Member

    e.g. "If it should be winter, I would go skiing."

    Hello, Is it correct to use "should" here? If so, what's the meaning of it in this sentence? To me, according to the meanings of "should", none of them fit in the sentence. Or, is it just functioning as a subjunctive? Or, the sentence is incorrect at all?

    Thanks a lot!
  2. cropje_jnr

    cropje_jnr Senior Member

    Canberra, Australia
    English - Australia
    This sounds highly unusual in contemporary English.

    "If it was/were winter" is how I would word this. Using the conditional may have served as a literary device in past times, but it would not be used in this way in modern English.
  3. yukinohana Senior Member

    Thank you, cropje.:) So this sentence itself isn't grammatically wrong in past times? What's the meaning of "should" then? Thanks!
  4. mplsray Senior Member

    I'm not quite sure this covers the situation, but meaning 20 b. in the entry for the verb shall in the Oxford English Dictionary seems to be a related use, at least.

    One of the examples given is this:

    It's not quite the same because no to is necessary to make the ordinary subjunctive form of the sentence you gave:

    If it should be winter, I would go skiing. [Sounds odd.]
    If it were to be winter, I would go skiing. [Sounds odd.]
    If it were winter, I would go skiing. [With were rather than were to.]

    I can't say for sure whether "If it should be winter, I would go skiing" was ever considered grammatical in any standard grammar. What does seem clear, however, is that the writer of the phrase is using "should be" to form a substitution for the subjunctive--a quasi-subjunctive or subjunctive-equivalent.
  5. se16teddy

    se16teddy Senior Member

    London but from Yorkshire
    English - England
    I think that this odd because I can't think of a context in which I would not know whether or not it was winter.
  6. Franzi Senior Member

    Astoria, NY
    (San Francisco) English
    I wouldn't use 'should' like this for something like a season (it comes every year, and we know it will come again). You do see it in archaic-sounding English, but the context is usually something like "If I should fall from grace with god..." (a Pogues lyric) or "If I should die, think only this of me..." (from a poem by Rupert Brooke).

    It's for much more hypothetical situations than winter.
  7. JamesM

    JamesM Senior Member

    I think this is a key point. The sentence gives the impression that something is happening by chance. To me it is similar to "if it happened to be winter". Winter doesn't happen by accident or whim.

    "If she should be angry, I would tell her to calm down" would be, to me, an antique way of saying "If she should happen to be angry (at that point in time), I would tell her to calm down."

    It's difficult to imagine a condition where this makes sense: "If it should happen to be winter (at that point in time), I would go skiing". I suppose you might encounter it in a science fiction story. "When we land on the new planet, if it should happen to be winter, I would go skiing."
  8. nesnej Member

    English, Canada

    I agree, the two options are "was or were"
    using "were" is the past subjunctive tense (which barely exists in English) "was winter" is becoming more common in our spoken language, however I would still say "If it were winter".

  9. Franzi Senior Member

    Astoria, NY
    (San Francisco) English
    I could use "if it should happen to be" there, but not "if it should be". Even on sci-fi planets, I would assume that seasons exist. The only time I'd be able to use a construction like this about a season would be in a situation where the natural progression of seasons had been stopped.

    For example, in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, the evil queen has caused it to be eternally winter. I think a statement like "If it should ever be spring again, the world would rejoice" would be acceptable (if overly poetic) in that context.

    This type of conditional with 'should' is for remote possibilities. Unless the sci-fi story involves many planets without winter, I really wouldn't use it.

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