There is also an archaic use of shall in an open protasis, still found in some legal language: If the tenant shall at any time fail to keep the demised premises as aforesaid the landlord may do all things necessary to effect or maintain such insurance. Shall fail here is semantically indistinguishable from fails; this use of shall is comparable to that of should in [28iv].
(The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, p195)

Even though the book says the use of shall in the example is comparable to that of should in [28iv] below, I suspect there might be a typo: [28iv] for [28v]. For the example and [28v] have a similarity in that they get protases. Is it a typo or is there anything for me to know better?

[28iv] It’s surprising that he should have been so late. [emotive]
[28v] If you should experience any difficulty, please let me know. [conditional]

  • 2
    I think you nailed it: it's v, not iv. Nov 9, 2013 at 14:16
  • @StoneyB, No, they seem to say the example’s and [28iv]’s shall and should respectively can be unmodalised. (“The should clause can generally be replaced by an unmmodlaised one: compare [28iv] with ‘It’s surprising that he was so late.’ p.188)
    – Listenever
    Nov 9, 2013 at 14:21
  • 2
    But so can [28v]: If you experience any difficulty .... And as you point out, [28v] is a conditional, [28iv] is not. If the tenant shall fail can equally be replaced by If the tenant should fail, which is "comparable", but that he should have been so late cannot be replaced by that he *shall have been so late. I betcha HuddlePuddle added a paragraph at some point and got their sequence muddled. Nov 9, 2013 at 15:02
  • I now feel like I should really see a few more paragraphs before and after that quote. Then, I might have a better idea on author's real intention. Dec 2, 2013 at 15:43

1 Answer 1


Actually, I'm not sure that this is a typo; however, at the same time, should and shall are not interchangeable in [28iv]. Comparable and interchangeable are not quite the same. They're basically saying that it is being used exactly the same as it is in [28iv].

This has nothing to do with conditionals. It's more a question of semantics. Yes, the text in the paragraph and [28v] are both conditionals (as indicated by if/shall/should and may), whereas [28iv] is not; but, that's not what they're talking about.

In example [28iv], that he should be so late, is semantically the same as that he was so late, just as if the tenant shall fail to is the same as saying if the tenant fails to. There is no change in meaning by removing either should or shall.

And while example [28iv] doesn't work with shall, it's used in the exact same way, meaning that shall is being used in that paragraph in the same way that should is being used in [28iv]. The modal adds absolutely nothing to the meaning. But, at the same time, you can't say it's surprising that he shall have been so late, at least not in Modern English.

That is not the point that the book is trying to make though. They simply mean they're the same usage, not that they're interchangeable. Here's the relevant context: Shall fail here is semantically indistinguishable from fails; this use of shall is comparable to that of should in [28iv].

In other words, that he should be is indistinguishable from was. That's a very literal reading of the text. So strictly speaking, it's correct.

On the other hand, with example [28v], If you should experience any difficultly, please contact me, should also has little meaning. If, though, is completely unnecessary in that sentence. It could be re-written as Should you experience any difficulty, please let me know. Saying if you should experience, is more like saying If you happen to experience any problems, please let me know. Think of if you should as being similar to in case here.

While I'm sure that there are plenty of speakers who wouldn't think twice of omitting should from [28v], it's not technically correct to do so. Although it probably wouldn't change the meaning of the sentence to most speakers if should were omitted, you're asking about a reference book, so it's most likely following prescriptive rules of grammar.

And even if that weren't the case, should adds politeness and formality to the sentence. That's not the case with [28iv].

What I take issue with, however, is that example [28iv] is the one using archaic language (in the US at least). But it's not the same as the archaic American use of shall that is only found in legal documents, which is what they're trying to explain.

This is very poorly explained in my opinion.

  • No, CGEL is not a prescriptive reference. It describes Standard English.
    – user230
    Dec 1, 2013 at 22:36
  • @snailboat that's fine; does that make the rest of what I wrote incorrect? It's not a book I often need, so I may have made an incorrect assumption; but I think I'm the only one (other than you perhaps) that understood why it may not be a typo. By the way, isn't the concept of Standard English itself prescriptive? Dec 1, 2013 at 22:41
  • No. Prescriptivism is advice; this covers a different range of topics than a description of Standard English. There's no reason a prescriptive reference can't agree with a descriptive one on the points where they do overlap, but for some reason it seldom works out this way in practice.
    – user230
    Dec 2, 2013 at 1:29

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