Anybody can interpret what the difference is among “when, where, should”? The example sentence I find is: A tenant may be liable to his landlord should a fire cause damage to the premises he rents. I think “should” can be replaced by "when or where". Can you tell me the rules or reason why? If possible, please give me a few examples to distinguish the three. Thanks.

1 Answer 1


It is not being used as a synonym for "when or where," it is closer to being a synonym for "if." In this usage, should creates a conditional statement. If there is a fire, then the tenant may be liable for the damage.

The relevant definition from the Oxford English Dictionary with some examples:

Shall/Should Definition 19 c. In the apodosis of a hypothetical proposition (expressed or implied), indicating that the supposition, and therefore its consequence, is unreal. Where the future tense (or the present with future import) would be used if the supposition were entertained. (With past tense subjunctive, usually should or would, also could, might, arch. were, etc., in the apodosis. Cf. 21) Now somewhat rare, modern usage preferring were to.

Ex. 1884: Tennyson Becket iii. i. 120 And no flower, not The sun himself, should he be changed to one, Could shine away the darkness of that gap.

Ex. 1782: F. Burney Cecilia V. ix. iv. 81 Should I think, Sir, to eternity,..I could never conjecture what you mean!

  • Thank you! I understand "should" here means "if". Can you further interpret the difference between when and where. I see a lot of native speakers use “where” in a clause/sentence to express the concept of time. I do not know why, both are interchangeable?
    – edgar
    Apr 18, 2019 at 2:29
  • Can you give an example of "where" to refer to time? It sounds familiar, but I can't come up with one off the top of my head.
    – eenbeetje
    Apr 18, 2019 at 2:32
  • Please see this example: Workers’ compensation legislation is in effect in all states, thus the dominant need for commercial insurance arises from situations where workers compensation programs do not apply. I think “where” here means “when”, but I do not know why native speakers prefer where.
    – edgar
    Apr 18, 2019 at 2:41
  • I see what you mean. "in which" would also seem very natural to me there, but I don't know how to explain why "when" is preferred. I'll think on it.
    – eenbeetje
    Apr 18, 2019 at 2:45
  • Thank you. Also I'd like to know why people prefer "should" to "if". Because it is wordy or literary for formal expression? Or any other reason?
    – edgar
    Apr 18, 2019 at 2:52

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