It is also important that we should say no to wrong. And if there is something going wrong we must have the confidence to say that this thing is going wrong, and we must raise our voice. (The Telegraph)

Can anybody explain what the grammar under the bolded sentence is?

Observing that the journalst use "also" before important, and not "so", why does s/he use the modal should before say?

I don't know why, but the sentence of which I'm talking about seems more correct if one drops the should and, possibly, the that, no?

  • I can't see anything wrong with the structure.
    – Mistu4u
    Mar 17, 2013 at 18:04
  • Rather I have another question. Should not it sound more right if it is said "we should say no to doing wrong" or "being wrong". Wrong alone does not sound perfect.
    – Mistu4u
    Mar 17, 2013 at 18:05
  • 2
    @Mistu4u Wrong here means 'that which is wrong'. Doing wrong or being wrong assume that we is the subject of the verb; but what the author means is that we should say no to wrongs committed by others. Mar 17, 2013 at 18:17
  • @Mistu, sorry I'm globally unconfortable with that sentence, but this happens because in Italian language there are no modal verbs and because my knowledge of English language is very basic.
    – user114
    Mar 17, 2013 at 18:19
  • 2
    @Carlo_R., Absolutely you should not be sorry. Other than the pro players, we all are learners here. In fact, I am feeling sorry for your saying so. Let your question unfold, in the direction it wants to.
    – Mistu4u
    Mar 17, 2013 at 18:25

4 Answers 4


All of these are to some degree acceptable:

1a.  It is important that we say "no" . . .
1b. ?It is important we say "no" . . .
2a.  It is important that we should say "no" . . .
2b. ?It is important we should say "no" . . .

The two 'b' versions, with no that, are entirely acceptable in sub-formal uses, and are usually acceptable in formal use; but the that makes the syntax clearer.

In 1a and 1b the verb takes what is traditionally called the mandative subjunctive - the unmarked infinitive form of the verb uninflected for person or number, employed in a subordinate clause expressing something desired or required. (We only know that it is the infinitive rather than the simple present because with the verb be, which is the only verb which distinguishes these two forms, the infinitive form is used.)

In 2a and 2b, the same 'subjunctive' quality is expressed using the past form of the modal verb shall, which itself of course bears a 'mandative' sense.

Both uses are acceptable, and have been for centuries; but that with the modal verb has been gaining ground over time.

marks an utterance as unacceptable ? marks an utterance as possibly unacceptable

  • Stoney, what does it happen if we replace "should" with "must" in that sentence?
    – user114
    Mar 17, 2013 at 18:29
  • 2
    That would state something quite different: that the obligation to say "no" is important, not the action itself. In that case, must would be parsed as an ordinary present tense. Mar 17, 2013 at 18:35
  • What does "say no to wrong" mean? Does it mean "say no to what is wrong"?
    – apaderno
    Mar 17, 2013 at 20:00
  • 2
    @kiamlaluno Yes; it might in context be anything from injustice or terrorism to incompetent coding or bad grammar or overcooked vegetables. Mar 17, 2013 at 20:11
  • 1
    The one with the modal verb has been losing ground, especially in American English. Consider this Ngram. Mar 20, 2013 at 19:51

I think to some extent, it's just sloppy phrasing. As Mistu4u comments, wrong doesn't feel quite "right" there either (grammatically, it can only function as a noun, but the writer then goes on to use the same word as an adverb twice in the next sentence, which looks clumsy).

As to why the writer added should - it's just that he wants to drag in the sense of "obligation" often implied by this modal verb. This isn't uncommon, and won't strike native speakers as ungrammatical.

  • 1
    A little qualification on the 'sloppiness'. 1) It's a live interview, not a written statement. 2) The speaker is a Pakistani, not a native speaker of English. 3) At the time of the interview she was 11 years old! Mar 17, 2013 at 20:03
  • 1
    @StoneyB: In that case I think she can be quite proud of her command of English! Like I say, I don't think most native speakers would particularly notice anything "ungrammatical" here, were it not for the fact that we're effectively being asked to find fault. Mar 17, 2013 at 22:57
  • Quite so. In fact, I looked the quote up because I suspected it was by a CoE clergyman, who drop from high-pompous to not-quite-right colloquial in the space of a single sentence. Mar 17, 2013 at 23:01
  • 1
    @StoneyB: Yeah right! - like the vicar in Family Guy saying "Maybe you should have thought of that before you made a porn!" to Lois! That "not-quite-right colloquial" is a definite trope these days! Mar 17, 2013 at 23:36
  • Has been for at least two generations: Graves and Hodge (1943), sv Principle E. Except where the writer is being deliberately facetious, all phrases in a sentence, or sentences in a paragraph, should belong to the same vocabulary or level of language, remark that “Scholars and clergymen are seldom able to keep their language all of a piece”, and offer some piquant examples which, alas, are too long to quote here. Mar 17, 2013 at 23:59

Without the preceding sentence this is difficult to answer. Possibly the meaning is "In addition/Furthermore it is important that..." or "It is as important as [something said in the preceding sentence] that...". The "should" could also be related to something preceding, for example: Joe says: "We shall say 'No!' to wrong." Then Jane reports: (Joe said that) we should say no to wrong. I would keep the "that", but "It is also important to say no to wrong" or even "It is also important saying no to wrong" would be possible. Nevertheless those statements do sound less emphasized.


You can also say wrongdoing, as in

"It is also important that we should say no to wrongdoing."

As for the difference of "It is also important..." and "It is so important..."

It is also important...

implies this point is as important as another reason, which is given in the second sentence, so this makes sense.
If you say

It is so important...

You are only emphasizing this this point is very important, without comparison to other possible points.

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