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I found the following in a grammar textbook under a unit about “should” as a modal verb:

I suggested that she should buy a car.”

But it is stated there that the past tense of “should” is “should have + past participle”. So, is the example grammatically wrong? If yes, what’s the correct form? If no, why?

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Should (referring to the past) versus should have + past participle

"Should have" + past participle is a perfect construction, referring to a completed action. It tends to imply "...but it's too late now".

If you say "I suggested that she should have bought a car", this means that you suggested that she should (already) have bought a car (by the time you spoke). You may well have said to her, "You should have bought a car."

But if you say "I suggested that she should buy a car", then the possibility of buying one was still open to her at the time you spoke to her (and may or may not still be open now). You may have said to her, "You should buy a car."

Tense

Tense is a tricky matter when it comes to modal verbs. Morphologically, "should" is already in the past, and for some purposes it may occasionally still function as the past tense of "shall" - although it may be better to think of them as two separate verbs.

Time

Regardless of formal tense, "should" can be used to refer to the present time ("You should buy a car (right now)" or future time ("You should buy a car soon", "You should buy one tomorrow"), but it can also refer to the past ("I said she should buy a car", "She knew that she should buy a car", "He wondered whether he should quit smoking").

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  • Good for you to point out that "should" is historically the past tense of "shall." I thought of including that in my answer, but saw that you had already sone so. Aug 20 '20 at 18:34
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No, the example is not grammatically wrong. The past tense verb "suggested" tells us the rest of the sentence is in the past. Imagine another phrase instead:

I suggested that he is a fool.

Nothing wrong with that, right? I'm referring to what I said at a moment in the past

It actually changes the meaning if you put "should have" in your example sentence. "I suggested that she should have bought a car" means that in this past instance, I told her she should have bought a car prior to this past instance, i.e. you needed a car and didn't have one, you should have bought one when you had the chance.

Whereas if I say "should buy a car" it means that in this past instance, I was telling her she should buy a car in the future, i.e. I wish we could go camping, you should buy a car.

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Well, the book you were looking at is simply wrong. There is no past tense of "should."

I suggested to her that she should buy a car

is perfectly grammatical. This is "should" in the sense of "ought to." The meaning is

I suggested [at some time in the past] that, because she did not own a car at the time of my suggestion, it would be a good thing if she did buy one, probably fairly soon AFTER I gave my suggestion.

I suggested to her that she should have bought a car

is also grammatical, but it has a different meaning. The meaning is

I suggested [at some time in the past] that it would have been a good thing if she had bought a car at some time BEFORE I gave my suggestion.

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