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Re: [Lingo] Usage of "should"

On Thu, 31 May 2012 07:34:46 +0200, Josh Glover <> wrote:

> Very much so, although I would posit that "shall we dance" is a set phrase
> that comes from the historical formality of dancing.
> Another use of "shall" in a set phrase is when getting ready to leave a
> restaurant. Everyone is in that post-coffee and/or -desert stage, and
> someone says "shall we?", at which time everyone nods sadly and stands up
> to leave.

It's also the de-facto standard in "old" English (in quotes because I'm not
talking Ye 14th-Century Chaucer-style Olde English, rather more recent than
that). The same modal verb is still in use in Dutch today:

I shall speak with him tomorrow:
Ik *ZAL* met hem morgen spreken

The main difference between English and other Germanic languages is that
modal verbs are never used in their infinitive form in English, so there is
no way to say what the Dutch verb "zullen" actually means. What I can say
is that the radical of its simple past tense is "zou" (ik zou, wij zouden
etc.), which is another clue how close zullen is to shall/should.

In its older form, "should" used to mean the conditional tense and has been
replaced over time by "would" (past tense of "will", which implies a wish
rather than a definite action, coming from Germanic "willen", past tense
"wilde(n)" or "wou(den)" in Dutch, the latter giving us "would" in English).
You still hear it used in the conditional sense from time to time today ("I
should like that (were it to happen)", don't get me started on
subjunctives :o) ).

Used in its "ought to" sense, "should" implies obligation and is therefore
used in conjunction with the modal verb "moeten" (think "must"):

I should (ought to) phone my sister:
Ik zou mijn zus moeten bellen

Anything more imperative just uses moeten:
I must phone my brother = Ik moet mijn broer bellen

I've always found it fascinating to see mechanics no longer alive in one
language still at work in another!

Godwin Stewart <>

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