I have happened upon this use by looking up the meaning of the phrase no less.

Who should arrive at the party but the prime minister, no less!

I am totally confused by the use of should, and so have no idea what is meant by that. Why is it in question form, but an axlanation mark used at the end. Could you please explain the grammar to me please?

2 Answers 2


Modal auxiliary should can be used to express the wondrous, the unbelievable, the improbable, or the outrageous:

What a society, that a child should walk the streets begging for food!

A wonder, that a mammal should be able to fly!

That he should remain in office after these shady dealings have come out!

It strains credibility that they should have had no prior knowledge of this leak in the holding tank.

In your example we see the same:

Who should arrive but the prime minister!


It is an idiomatic expression used to emphasize how surprising an event was:

who/what should — but

  • I was in this shop when who should I see across the street but Tobias.


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