what is the meaning of "should never" and "should not" in this context?

There are one or two points about the case which would bear discussion. One is that a man with so remarkable a name as Charles B. Rosma should never have been traced, considering all the publicity which the case acquired. This would certainly at the time have appeared a formidable objection, but with our fuller knowledge we appreciate how very difficult it is to get names correctly across. A name apparently is a purely conventional thing, and as such very different from an idea. Every practising Spiritualist has received messages which were correct coupled with names which were mistaken. It is possible that the real name was Ross, or possibly Rosmer, and that this error prevented identification. Again, it is curious that he should not have known that his body had been moved from the centre of the cellar to the wall, where it was eventually found. We can only record the fact without attempting to explain it.

from http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks03/0301051h.html

  • Does your language not have not and never?
    – Lambie
    Commented Aug 15, 2020 at 15:22

3 Answers 3


He should = He is supposed to
He shouldn't = He is not supposed to

He should have = He was supposed to
He shouldn't have = He was not supposed to
(the past tense of "should" is "should have")

Using "never" after "should" in negative statements is for emphasis , you can use "not" instead .

He should never have been traced = He was not supposed to be traced.

He should not have known = He was not supposed to know.

  • This is wrong, as it assumes that should has deontic meaning, but actually both shoulds are epistemic. See my answer. (I wasn't sure about this for a moment, because supposed can also have an epistemic meaning; but it is uncommon in the negative).
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Apr 22, 2021 at 17:38
  • @Colin Fine I remember trying to put things into perspective for the asker according to my understanding of should have but it seems that to suppose was not the best verb to use. Thank you.
    – Mohammad
    Commented Apr 23, 2021 at 22:56

Both these uses of should are epistemic (about the speaker's knowledge and expectations), not deontic (about obligations). In these examples, the "should" expresses something like surprise. A paraphrase of the first is "I am surprised that somebody with such a remarkable name was not traced".

Similarly the second one expresses something like "It is surprising that he did not know".

Does that answer your question?


The two phrases have similar meanings here.

'Should never have been traced', in this context means that the man was not traced.

One is that a man with so remarkable a name as Charles B. Rosma was not traced, considering all the publicity which the case acquired.

'Should not have known', means that he didn't know.

It was curious (strange) that he didn't know that his body had been moved.

This is a subjunctive form and is an obsolete usage in contemporary American English. It was more common prior to the 20th century than now.

See English Language on Stack Exchange for more explanation.

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