It seemed unthinkable that he should have done such a wicked thing.

jokker

Senior Member
Chinese/Taiwan
It seemed unthinkable that he should have done such a wicked thing.

In the sentence above, did he or didn't he do such a wicked thing?? :confused:

I can't figure it out. If he did it, why the sentence doesn't in this way--that he had done or he did such a wicked thing.:confused:

Could you tell me whether he did or didn't do a wicked thing? Many thanks in advance.:)
 
  • cuchuflete

    Senior Member
    EEUU-inglés
    Hi Jokker,
    He did it!

    Take one step into the past: It seemed.

    The speaker is describing a past time at which something seemed to have occured.

    Now take yet another step into a further past. That is when
    he "should have done such a wicked thing."

    The construction, 'that he should have done' does allow for at least two cases. In one, the speaker is expressing surprise.
    In another, it may reflect doubt that "he" actually did the wicked thing.
     

    jokker

    Senior Member
    Chinese/Taiwan
    Thank you very much, chchuflete.:) :)
    The steps of explanation do help!
    cuchuflete said:
    The construction, 'that he should have done' does allow for at least two cases. In one, the speaker is expressing surprise.
    In another, it may reflect doubt that "he" actually did the wicked thing.
    And thanks for this part of explanation! I always interpreted 'should have + verb' as an speculation of the past event.:p
     

    cuchuflete

    Senior Member
    EEUU-inglés
    Hi Jokker,

    I always interpreted 'should have + verb' as an speculation of the past event.:p
    You are correct...it is speculative. The speaker may be speculating about the likelihood of the event having occured at all, or expressing surprise that the supposed act did take place. Context usually
    tells us precisely which meaning is intended.
     

    jokker

    Senior Member
    Chinese/Taiwan
    cuchuflete said:
    Hi Jokker,

    You are correct...it is speculative. The speaker may be speculating about the likelihood of the event having occured at all, or expressing surprise that the supposed act did take place. Context usually
    tells us precisely which meaning is intended.
    Thank you, cuchuflete, for the further explanation and the correction.:)

    It's an example sentence without context in the dictionary. :)
     

    DaleC

    Senior Member
    It's indeterminate whether he did, although the usual interpreatation would be that he did.

    I have a different explanation of verb conjugation from the one that has been given. The 'have' goes with 'should', not with 'do'. This have indicates the past tense of 'should', not the "perfect tense" of 'do'.

    For most English speakers of our time (in America, for example), the 'should' would usually be 'would'.
    jokker said:
    It seemed unthinkable that he should have done such a wicked thing.

    In the sentence above, did he or didn't he do such a wicked thing?? :confused:
     

    jokker

    Senior Member
    Chinese/Taiwan
    DaleC said:
    It's indeterminate whether he did, although the usual interpreatation would be that he did.
    I see... And as chchu said, context tells us precisely which meaning is intended.:)

    I have a different explanation of verb conjugation from the one that has been given. The 'have' goes with 'should', not with 'do'. This have indicates the past tense of 'should', not the "perfect tense" of 'do'.

    For most English speakers of our time (in America, for example), the 'should' would usually be 'would'.
    DaleC, many thanks indeed! :) :)
     

    jokker

    Senior Member
    Chinese/Taiwan
    *I am surprised that you should have acted so indiscreetly.

    This time I know this "you" had acted indiscreetly because the book says so. As cuchuflete and DaleC said, "should" expresses "surprise" and "have acted" means this event happened at a past time.

    My question is that how to tell the sentence pattern "should have + past participle" means "something which actually happened" or "something which is speculated" when we don't have context, as the sentence on the top?

    Can I judge it by "I am surprised" and say that event did happen because "am" means certainty?

    Contrast:It seemed unthinkable that he should have done such a wicked thing. --We are unable to sure whether "he" did it or didn't do it without context because the sentence used "seem".--Can I understand it in this way?

    Sorry, I couldn't express my question well, and I am really confused about the use of should.

    Another question: since "should have + past participle" can be used to mean the speaker's surprise at something which happened in the past, then how to use "should" to express surprise at the present event?

    Here is a sentence from the dictionary: It's strange that you should say that. --I still don't know whether this you does say that or doesn't say that. Please tell me...thank you!

    Sorry for my terrible English and hope you can see my question!
     

    french4beth

    Senior Member
    US-English
    I think that it would have sounded better as "... he could have done" (that he was capable of such wickedness), but that's my opinion; I think it sounds much less formal than 'should have done' and more conversational/less literary.
     

    TimN

    Member
    English, England
    Normally:
    "I should/could/would have done it" -> always implies "but I didn't".
    "He was surprised/shocked/horrified that I should/could/would have done it" -> always implies "but I did".

    In other languages, opinion, belief, point of view of an action, would take us into the realms of the subjunctive (which normally gives me goose-bumps and a cold sweat) fortunately, I'm not enough of a gramatician to spot if that is what is going on here in my own language. I defer to to others...

    TimN
    Go ahead, make your day!
     

    jokker

    Senior Member
    Chinese/Taiwan
    french4beth said:
    I think that it would have sounded better as "... he could have done" (that he was capable of such wickedness), but that's my opinion; I think it sounds much less formal than 'should have done' and more conversational/less literary.
    french4beth, thank you very much for your opinion and views!:)
     

    jokker

    Senior Member
    Chinese/Taiwan
    TimN said:
    Normally:
    "I should/could/would have done it" -> always implies "but I didn't".
    Hmm, I see.:)
    "He was surprised/shocked/horrified that I should/could/would have done it" -> always implies "but I did".
    Then, in this sentence "It's strange that you should say that."-- This "you" do say that, right?

    In other languages, opinion, belief, point of view of an action, would take us into the realms of the subjunctive (which normally gives me goose-bumps and a cold sweat)
    It gives me this ----> :confused:

    Thank you very much, TimN, for your point of view and help.:)
     

    jokker

    Senior Member
    Chinese/Taiwan
    1) I can't believe that Mary should have said that.
    --This means that Mary said that in the past time, right?

    2) I can't believe that Mary should say that.
    -- Does this mean Mary say that in the present time?
     

    TimN

    Member
    English, England
    jokker said:
    1) I can't believe that Mary should have said that.
    --This means that Mary said that in the past time, right?

    2) I can't believe that Mary should say that.
    -- Does this mean Mary say that in the present time?
    In these cases, I'd use "would" or "could".

    You are on the right track:
    In 1) I can't believe that Mary would have said that. You are referring to an event completed in the past. You either heard Mary say something yourself or, you have been told that said she something: either way you still have difficulty believing it.

    In 2) I can't believe that Mary would say that. You more likely referring to an event in the recent past, possibly you heard Mary say "that" just a moment ago.

    Note that in the "always implies…" examples I use further up, I am referring to myself. If I am referring to another person, as I am here (Mary), the "always implies" comments don't necessarily hold. Here, I am 99% sure that Mary said "that", I may even have heard her say "that" myself, but find it so surprising/shocking, that I still have difficulty believing it, there is still a 1% doubt in my mind: maybe I misheard her, maybe someone is lying to me about what she said, etc.

    Regards,
    Tim
    Go ahead, make your day!
     

    jokker

    Senior Member
    Chinese/Taiwan
    TimN said:
    In these cases, I'd use "would" or "could".
    Ah...Why? Why? Don't we use 'should' to express 'surprise'?

    What's the difference between 'should' and 'would'?
    In 1) I can't believe that Mary would have said that. You are referring to an event completed in the past. You either heard Mary say something yourself or, you have been told that said she something: either way you still have difficulty believing it.
    I am surprised that you should have acted so indiscreetly. -- This sentence use 'should', and is also referring to an event completed in the past (you acted so indiscreetly). This 'I' either saw this 'you' act indiscreetly or was told that 'this you' had acted indiscreetly. In either situation, this 'I' is surprised.

    Do I understand correctly? If so, could you please tell me why you would use 'would' instead of 'should'?


    In 2) I can't believe that Mary would say that. You more likely referring to an event in the recent past, possibly you heard Mary say "that" just a moment ago.
    It's strange that you should say that. -- This sentence use 'should', and is also referring to an event in the very recent past. For example, you say something, and I response, 'It's strange that you should say that.'

    If I understand correctly, then why would you use 'would' instead of 'should'? Doesn't should express 'surprise' in this kind of sentence structure?

    Oh, oh, please tell me why!


    Thank you very much! Tim :)
     

    TimN

    Member
    English, England
    jokker said:
    Ah...Why? Why? Don't we use 'should' to express 'surprise'?

    What's the difference between 'should' and 'would'?
    Hi Jokker,
    As I observed in my post further up, if we are not already in the muddy waters of the subjunctive, then we are dangerously close. My first post was a specific example on, solid ground. The further I get from specifics and the more I get into grammatic generalities, the less I am on solid ground, but, with that caveat, I'll do my best :)
    The difficulty lies in the subtle differences between should, would and could. I don't claim that what follows is any kind of treatise on the subject, it just picks out what I hope might be helpful to you here and now.

    I should X..
    I would X if Y.
    I could A if B.

    At a fundamental level, "should" implies obligation or necessity imposed from outside: it looks more at the circumstances your are in, that it looks at you yourself. In contrast "would" and "could" imply (amonst other things) an element of will/choice/desire on your part, they look far more at you and choices you might make.

    I should visit my mother, she is ill. (No indication of whether I actually want to visit her!).
    She would fly to Disneyland, if she had the money. (She wants to go!)
    They could fly to Disneyland, if they wanted to. (Maybe they want to, maybe they don't want to go.)

    This point can become diluted, obscured, or have a lesser importance, but is still implied to a greater or lesser degree.

    I can't believe that Mary would say that.
    I can't believe that Mary would have said that.
    I'm looking at Mary here, her choice of words, and I find her choice unbelievable (even though I may know that she really did say them), so would or could are more appropriate.


    Contrast:
    I believe that Mary should have said that.
    Here I believe there was an obligation or need (for Mary to say that). I'm looking at the obligation or need that Mary was (in my opinion) subject to, as much as Mary herself.
    I can't believe that Mary should have said that.
    Here, I can't/don't believe that there was an obligation or need (for Mary to say that).

    So, really, to answer you question, you can use should, but just be aware that it does not have the same meaning or implications.

    Hope that helps :-]
    Tim
     
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