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1) Have a first-aid kit on hand should you cut yourself. = Have a first-aid kit on hand in case you cut yourself.

Take heed that (1) doesn’t mean - Have a first-aid kit on hand if you cut yourself.

2) Contact an exterminator should you see fire ants in your yard. = If you see fire ants in your yard, contact an exterminator.

Hence we have the “should” in sentence 1 meaning – in case, and the “should” in sentence 2 meaning – if.

Do you agree with the correctness of my analysis? How do we distinguish the difference in meanings? Do we do it only with the help of the context? Or are their some grammatical tools (like syntax etc.) which can help us?

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  • I agree with your analysis; however, I'd keep "should" when I write them in normal word order: "Have a first-aid kit on hand in case you should cut yourself." "Contact an exterminator if you should see fire ants in your yard." In the end, "in case of X should" and "if X should" are not exactly identical, as you suggested. I'm not sure if the inversion and the omission of "in case" in the first sentence is felicitous, but I will keep looking. – Damkerng T. Apr 6 '14 at 9:19
  • I hope you don't equate "in case" to"in case of"... It's important as they have different meanings. – user1425 Apr 6 '14 at 9:47
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    Oh, yes. That's a typo. I meant "in case X should". Sometimes my typo can mean exactly the opposite (like dropping a "not"). I usually insert a whole word or drop a whole word when typing. :-) Sorry for the typo. – Damkerng T. Apr 6 '14 at 9:51
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    I tried to find examples for the case of "in case" inversion with should (i.e. Have a first-aid kit on hand in case you (should) cut yourself.), but I couldn't find one. I guess that the inversion with should (i.e. Have a first-aid kit on hand should you cut yourself.) is understandable but not quite felicitous. A better alternative, in my opinion, would be: Have a first-aid kit on hand lest you cut yourself. – Damkerng T. Apr 6 '14 at 20:33
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Good question (+1). Many have such doubts and I also had the same once!

The commonest sentence you find all over the Internet and mail is...

Should you have any query about our product or service, please contact ....

Haven't you seen that? I guess you must.

The word should mean many things. In fact, If I should die, take care of my children is a valid sentence.

should (v) - expresses a condition

Your sentences will be clear in meaning now. In a laypersons' language, consider should in such cases as .. in that case, if that happens, in such case, or simply 'if'.

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