I am wondering for which type of conditional sentences such a "should" could be used? that is, the zero conditional or blah blah blah...???

"Should in Conditional Sentences" at EnglishPractice.com


Could you think of any situation where we could use "should" in the second or third conditional sentences? for instance: just in case, in case, and so on? –

The only thing that I could remember vividly is the fact that" my Profs. told me I can use "should" in just the second or third conditional sentences. –

  • Zero conditional? That's the first thing "should" isn't used in. Zero conditionals are for facts everyone "instinctly" knows. "Should" is for the least probable possibilities.
    – M.A.R.
    Jan 12, 2015 at 18:51
  • 1
    I did not understand the meaning of "blah blah blah" as regards the use of the modal verb should, but no, it's not used in "zero conditional" sentences. A zero conditional sentence looks like this: "If you heat water, it boils." Jan 12, 2015 at 18:56
  • First off thanks. So, would you please provide those types of conditional sentences that we could use "should" in them?
    – nima
    Jan 12, 2015 at 19:12
  • The types that are described in the link! :) Unless you mean something else by "type", and that way, maybe you should provide more examples of what you mean by "type". Hold on a second: Do you mean the "first", "second" or "third" type conditionals? This is not a correct way of classifying conditionals....
    – M.A.R.
    Jan 12, 2015 at 19:30
  • 1
    @nima please go through the following links ell.stackexchange.com/a/44887/3463 and ell.stackexchange.com/a/46317/3463 I have also asked you to read a book. I mentioned it's page numbers also. And suggested that you shouldn't learn conditional sentences as 1st, 2nd or 3rd conditional. Jan 18, 2015 at 13:30

4 Answers 4


Please read the following points -

  1. You can eliminate type 3 that 'should' would ever be used there.
  2. Type 2 is for 'unreal' conditions - so 'should' can not be used in unreal or imaginary conditions
  3. In type '0' we speak of the general truths and the events which happen regularly or frequently. So 'should' can not be used in 'zero conditonal'.

    Let us understand this with the following example

    For General truths like

    1. If you heat ice, it melts.
    2. If you eat too much sweet food, you put on weight.
    3. If you press this button, the door opens.

Here you can't use 'should' because unlike the examples of type 1 (see type 1 examples below) where 'should' implies probability that something 'could happen', here there is no question of probability in 'general truths'. Because they always give you the same result 'if' you apply them.

Another example

If I ever go out, I always let my parents know it first.

In this situation you can't use should because you are not talking about a one-off situation but it is a personal statement i.e. everytime when I go out, I let my parents know it first. So 'should' can't be used in such sentences.

So the only remaining type is type '1'

Some Examples

  1. If you need any money, let me know.
  2. Should you need any money, let me know.
  3. If you have any queries, contact us on the above address.
  4. Should you have any queries, contact us on the above address.

These are like imperative sentences but only with a condition. Here 'if' can be dropped. However 'should' can hardly be used in negative imperative sentences.

For example

  1. If you don't go to the party, come over to my place.

Here 'if' can't be dropped to replace 'should'

I googled to see if I could find any examples of 'should' with a negative condition. But I hardly found anything. So I guess it is safe to assume that 'should' should not be used in negative conditions.

Let's see your examples (the ones from the link)

  1. Should it rain, there will be no picnic today. (= If it should rain, there will be no picnic today.)
  2. Should she fail the test, she will lose her job. (= If she should fail the test, she will lose her job.)

In these examples the conditions are not negative, but the results are. If the conditions in the sentences were to be negative, then 'if' would have had to be used.

As in

  1. There will be picnic today, if it doesn't rain.
  2. If she doesn't pass the test, she will lose her job.

There could be few exceptions when 'should' is used in a negative condition


  1. Should it not rain, we will go and water them.”

Please note that here the subject is 'it'. I tried to see if I could make any sentences with any other subject than 'it', but I guess it is not possible.

Even in type '1' there are many conditional sentences in which 'should' can not be used. I guess we will have to develope flair for language to understand it completely.

  • Leo I agree with your explanations except one thing. In zero conditional "should" also can be used. But there they doesn't mean possibility. For example this sentence - In other words if there be a moral burden to protest it should be well aimed, and be for proper reasons, difficult though this may be to define. Jan 18, 2015 at 14:15
  • Another one - If the potato is green throughout it should be discarded. And this - If you heat ice, it should melt. Jan 18, 2015 at 14:18

The following sentences are type 1 (first) conditional.

  • If he should call, tell him I will ring back.
  • If I should see him, I'll ask him to ring you.

If "should" is used in if-clauses you express explicitly that you think it is rather improbable but nevertheless it might happen. It is just a variant for far possibilities.

Alexander in the Longman Grammar says in paragraph 14.8:

  • If you should see him, give him my regards. If + should makes the condition more doubtful.

Eastwood is clearer, in Oxford Guide to English Grammar, paragraph 258.1:

  • If you should fall ill, we will pay your hospital expenses. We can use "should" in an if-clause to talk about something which is possible but not very likely.
  • So, if "should" is to be used as expressing doubtfulness, why don't we use it in conditional sentences such as type 2 or 3????
    – nima
    Jan 22, 2015 at 15:01
  • I don't know what is type 2 or 3. The normal thing for irreal conditions are subjunctive forms. If + should is not an irreal condition, it can happen as a far possibility.
    – rogermue
    Jan 22, 2015 at 15:07
  • I meant first, second or thirs type of cinditional sentences
    – nima
    Jan 22, 2015 at 15:13
  • Could you think of any situation where we could use "should" in the second or third conditional sentences? for instance: just in case, in case, and so on?
    – nima
    Jan 22, 2015 at 15:14
  • please don't ask me -as I have no idea- as to the reason or any further explanation of my questions above.
    – nima
    Jan 22, 2015 at 15:15

In American, the rule (especially for spoken English) is LEAVE IT OUT. That is, simply delete "should" and adjust the verb accordingly :

If he should come --> If he comes
If it should rain --> If it rains etc.

"should" in conditionals is being discarded as a superfluous anachronism. To the American ear it sounds "affected".

  • Not exactly true. Quoting @rogermue's answer " If + should makes the condition more doubtful." Jan 19, 2015 at 15:51
  • @Man_From_India In AmE at least, should is very, very rarely used in spoken English in conditionals. You would be perfectly understood, but only an English professor or someone trying to sound fancy (or perhaps an older person who is very prim and proper) would ever speak this way. Jan 19, 2015 at 20:21
  • @JasonPatterson okay... Jan 20, 2015 at 2:40

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