I was taught "should have past particle" expresses 1. regret 2. strong belief, but I feel I don't understand the essence of 'should'.

In examples below "should have past particle" seems to mean 'wanted to' or maybe regret in the 3rd example.


'I have lost it, Bilbo dear,' said Frodo. 'I got rid of it, you know.'
'What a pity!' said Bilbo. 'I should have liked to see it again.'

The Return of the King: Being the Third Part of the Lord of the Rings


I should have liked to be asked to say what I knew. They always tried to ask what I did not know. When I would have willingly displayed my knowledge, they sought to expose my ignorance. This sort of treatment had only one result: I did not do well in examinations

Winston Churchill


I should have liked to begin this story in the fashion of the fairy-tales. I should have like to say: "Once upon a time there was a little prince who lived on a planet that was scarcely any bigger than himself, and who had need of a sheep . . .

The Little Prince

Please help me understand these sentences and the expression.

5 Answers 5


These texts are all from works by authors educated at the end of the 19th or in the early 20th century: J.R.R. Tolkien's Return of the King (1955), Katherine Woods' translation of The Little Prince (1943), and Winston Churchill's My Early Life (1930)

Formal and 'educated' English of those days, especially British English, maintained a 'rule' that called for will/would to swap roles with shall/should in the first person—that is, with I or we—so you should (!) understand these shoulds to be equivalent to would in present-day English.

This rule has mostly passed out of use, but you will still encounter it from time to time, and you should expect it in older literary and academic texts.

Except when will/would was used in a habitual or volitive sense.


Historically, "should" tended to be preferred (in formal and educated speech at least) over "would" when using the first-person pronouns "I" and "we". This was particularly true in British English, rather than American English. The fact that Tolkien came from a middle-class family, was educated and spoke British English thus explains the usages in your question (I don't recognise the other books).

However, this is rather dated nowadays, and would is now generally used in all cases in all varieties of English.

There is some discussion of this in this book (page 41 onwards): https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=pUghrDokKpsC&pg=PA41


would have + participle and should have express a wish that things had happened differently to how they actually turned out.

This lamp is broken: I should have kept the receipt.

There was a good band at the club last night: I would have liked to see them.

In modern usage, should have reflects something that somebody ought to have done, but in the early twentieth century when these books were written, will and would were used only by vulgar people: polite people used shall and should.


One may use “should” or “ought to” + have + past participle to talk about an expectation that something will happen.

"The builders ought to / should have finished by the end of the week."

This seems to be the case of excerpt # 1.


I agree with what the above answers say: "should like" is being used in first person to mean "would like"; the only difference is Tolkien is using the formal English rule for it. I shall try to explain it for you as best as possible since this rule is a bit dated although you will hear it spoken from time to time when someone is being very formal or polite.

The verb "will" has a past subjunctive form of "would"; "shall" has a past subjunctive form of "should"; and this goes on for eight of the nine main modals (can = could; may = might or may; however, "must" remains "must" because "must" was technically the past tense of "mote", but English rid itself of "mote" as a modal centuries ago and now just uses its past tense "moste", which is our modern-day "must".) When a person wants to be polite, instead of saying "I want", he will normally say "I would like" or, in Tolkien's very formal, dated tone, "I should like". Normally, "would" and "should" are the simple past indicative forms of "will" and "shall" respectively; however, as previously mentioned, these are examples of their past subjunctive forms, which, like most verbs in English, cannot be differentiated from their past indicative forms anymore unlike in Old English. So here are some examples of Tolkien's "should like" that you'll hear in Modern English today: NOTE: its use will only appear in first person (I / we) forms unless someone should be indirectly restating what another person has already said.

"I should like a glass of milk." = "I would like a glass of milk."

However, one would repeat indirectly,

"He says he should like a glass of milk." = (Because the original speaker used "I should like" and not "I would like".)

"I should like nothing more than to get my revenge." = "I would like..."

"I should have liked to be asked that." = "I would have liked..."

The past subjunctive lines up pretty much with the present subjunctive when used in conditional statements such as "if-then" clauses, even though the use of the present subjunctive in if-then clauses is rather archaic or very formal. For example:

"If I be found guilty, I shall kill myself." (present subjunctive)

"If I were found guilty, I should kill myself." (past subjunctive)

"If I had been found guilty, I should have killed myself." (past perfect subjunctive)


"If he be found guilty, he will kill himself." (present subjunctive)

"If he were found guilty, he would kill himself." (past subjunctive)

"If he had been found guilty, he would have killed himself." (past perfect subjunctive)

I hope this might have helped you understand what was going on in the mind of Tolkien when he wrote those passages.

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