Tolkien uses a lot of unknown and strange phrases to me, especially in character's lines. Like for example this one:

To think that I should have lived to be good-morninged by Belladonna Took's son, as if I was selling buttons at the door.

At first I had no idea what it means. Then some kind people from reddit explained it to me and now I understand the phrase as a whole, though it still looks quite unnatural to me. And that's mainly because of that 'should' part. Doesn't "I should have lived to be greeted (just using other verb here)" alone mean "I have had to live to be greeted" and is 'should' interchangeable for would in this particular case?

"I should think so!" instead of "I think so!" is another phrase containing 'should' with other than its original meaning (You should = I recommend you to, You should have ≈ You had to..., as I recommended you, as you were supposed to)

Maybe I've missed some 'should' grammar?

  • 2
    Lexico shows eight meanings for 'should' and a paragraph about its usage. Their meaning 8 seems close: Used to emphasize to a listener how striking an event is or was. May 21, 2021 at 11:02
  • 1
    I just found this: mainly UK used after "that" and adjectives or nouns that show an opinion or feeling: It's odd that she should think I would want to see her again. It's so unfair that she should have died so young. and this: UK formal used instead of "would" when the subject is "I" or "we": I should like a cup of tea before I go to bed. I shouldn't expect you to pay, of course. May 21, 2021 at 11:30
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    To think that I should have [done X] is a highly stylised way of saying I have done X, which is noteworthy / surprising. Another speaker might have phrased it as To think that I did X, to avoid the somewhat "dated, literary" subjunctive form should. May 21, 2021 at 16:06
  • Thank you very much, FumbleFingers! That's what I thought and you confirmed it. May 21, 2021 at 18:29
  • It's unclear what part of that sentence you're having trouble with, but it's probably worth noting that "To think that..." is an idiomatic phrase that might unravel the mystery
    – gotube
    Sep 12, 2021 at 0:16

1 Answer 1


Part of what makes this sentence hard to parse is that it is an exclamation, seeming to start in the middle of a phrase. You could paraphrase it roughly as:

It is astonishing to think that I should have lived to ...

Or simplified differently:

It is astonishing that I should have lived to ...

As a modal verb, the exact meaning of "should" is often quite difficult to describe. In this case, it is a way of indicating the conditional mood (considered formal, and probably slightly old-fashioned):

If I were to live a hundred years, I should not forget this

In less formal modern English this would probably be said as:

If I live a hundred years, I will not forget this

In this case, it is paired with "have" to indicate the conditional past, as in:

If I had lived a hundred years, I should have remembered this

So, specifically, "I should have lived to be good-morninged" means something like "a possible course of events happened, in which somebody good-morninged me".

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