"The forest?" he repeated, and he didn't sound quite as cool as usual. "We can't go in there at night –– there's all sorts of things in there –– werewolves, I heard."
Neville clutched the sleeve of Harry's robe and made a choking noise.
"That's your problem, isn't it?" said Filch, his voice cracking with glee. "Should've thought of them werewolves before you got in trouble, shouldn't you?"
Hagrid came striding toward them out of the dark, Fang [his dog] at his heel. He was carrying his large crossbow, and a quiver of arrows hung over his shoulder.
"Abou' time," he said. "I bin waitin' fer half an hour already. All right, Harry, Hermione?"
"I shouldn't be too friendly to them, Hagrid," said Filch coldly, they're here to be punished, after all."
"That's why yer late, is it?" said Hagrid, frowning at Filch. "Bin lecturin' them, eh? 'Snot your place ter do that. Yeh've done yer bit, I'll take over from here."
"I'll be back at dawn," said Filch, "for what's left of them," he added nastily, and he turned and started back toward the castle, his lamp bobbing away in the darkness.
(Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone)

What does the ‘should’ mean?


It's a slightly dated idiomatic usage with overtones of "pseudo-formality". More naturally, Filch could say...

I wouldn't be too friendly to them [if I were you].

And more logically/grammatically, he could say...

You shouldn't be too friendly to them.

...but he avoids that because it might be perceived as "permemptorily rude".

Regarding the "overtones", I think most native speakers would be influenced by the fact that...

I should like you to leave now

...is generally considered somewhat formal/starchy/stilted/dated phrasing, compared to

I would like you to leave now

...which itself is just "polite circumlocution" for...

I want you to leave now

  • I don't get the overtones at all. I think it just has its ordinary meaning, "I shouldn't [do X]" just means that it would be improper for me to do X. – David Schwartz Jul 31 '13 at 10:57
  • 2
    @DavidSchwartz FumbleFingers is speaking of British usage, which retains in many speech communities the old-fashioned use of shall/should instead of will/would in the first person. Since the Harry Potter books are set in England, and Filch is an elderly speaker, I think FumbleFingers is correct. – StoneyB on hiatus Jul 31 '13 at 11:09
  • @David: I wasn't aware of StoneyB's point that I shouldn't [do something] is a particularly British usage, but on purely semantic grounds I can't see how you can avoid interpreting I there as meaning you. What possible reason could Filch have for telling Hagrid that it would be "improper" for him (Filch) to be over-friendly towards the children? After all, presumably Filch himself hasn't been at all friendly, and he's saying this immediately after Hagrid has been. – FumbleFingers Jul 31 '13 at 16:52

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