Reference > H.W. Fowler > The King’s English, 2nd ed.

H.W. Fowler (1858–1933).  The King’s English, 2nd ed.  1908.

Chapter II. Syntax


IT is unfortunate that the idiomatic use, while it comes by nature to southern Englishmen (who will find most of this section superfluous), is so complicated that those who are not to the manner born can hardly acquire it; and for them the section is in danger of being useless. In apology for the length of these remarks it must be said that the short and simple directions often given are worse than useless. The observant reader soon loses faith in them from their constant failure to take him right; and the unobservant is the victim of false security.

Roughly speaking, should follows the same rules as shall, and would as will; in what follows, Sh. may be taken as an abbreviation for shall, should, and should have, and W. for will, would, and would have.

In our usage of the Sh. and W. forms, as seen in principal sentences, there are elements belonging to three systems. The first of these, in which each form retains its full original meaning, and the two are not used to give different persons of the same tense, we shall call the pure system: the other two, both hybrids, will be called, one the coloured-future, the other the plain-future system. In Old English there was no separate future; present and future were one. Shall and will were the presents of two verbs, to which belong also the pasts should and would, the conditionals should and would, and the past conditionals should have and would have. Shall had the meaning of command or obligation, and will of wish. But as commands and wishes are concerned mainly with the future, it was natural that a future tense auxiliary should be developed out of these two verbs. The coloured future results from the application to future time of those forms that were practically useful in the pure system; they consequently retain in the coloured future, with some modifications, the ideas of command and wish proper to the original verbs. The plain future results from the taking of those forms that were practically out of work in the pure system to make what had not before existed, a simple future tense; these have accordingly not retained the ideas of command and wish. Which were the practically useful and which the superfluous forms in the pure system must now be explained.

Thou shalt not steal is the type of shall in the pure system. We do not ordinarily issue commands to ourselves; consequently I shall is hardly required; but we often ask for orders, and therefore shall I? is required. The form of the shall present in the pure system is accordingly:

Shall I? You shall. He shall. Shall we? They shall.

As to the past tense, orders cannot be given, but may be asked about, so that, for instance, What should I do? (i.e., What was I to do?) can be done all through interrogatively.

In the conditionals, both statement and question can be done all through. I can give orders to my imaginary, though not to my actual self. I cannot say (as a command) I shall do it; but I can say, as a conditional command, I should do it.

I shall and we shall are accordingly the superfluous forms of the present shall in the pure system.

Again, with will, I will meaning it is my will, it is obvious that we can generally state this only of ourselves; we do not know the inside of other people's minds, but we can ask about it. The present runs, then,

I will. Will you? Will he? We will. Will they?

The past tense can here be done all through, both positively and interrogatively. For though we cannot tell other people's present will, we can often infer their past will from their actions. So (I was asked, but) I would not, and Why would I do it? all through. And similarly in the conditionals, I would not (if I could), &c.

The spare forms supplied by the present will, then, are you will, he will, they will; and these, with I shall, we shall, are ready, when the simple future is required, to construct it out of. We can now give

Rule 1. The Pure System

When Sh. and W. retain the full original meanings of command and wish, each of them is used in all three persons, so far as it is required.

The following examples show most of what we inherit directly from the pure system.

Thou shalt not steal. Not required in first person.
Shall I open the door? Not required in second.
You should not say such things. In all persons.
And shall Trelawny die? Hardly required in second.
Whom should he meet but Jones? (...was it his fate...) In all.
Why should you suspect me? In all.
It should seem so. (It would apparently be incumbent on us to believe) Isolated idiom with third.
I will have my way. Not required in second and third; but see below.
I (he) asked him (me) to do it, but he (I) would not. In all.
I would not have done it for the world. In all.
I would be told to wait a while (Habitual). In all.
Will you come with me? Not required in first.
I would I were dead. Not required in second and third.
He will bite his nails, whatever I say. In all.
He will often stand on his head. In all.
You will still be talking (i.e., you always are). Not required in first.
A coat will last two years with care.

It will be noticed that the last four forms are among those that were omitted as not required by the pure system. Will would rarely be required in second and third person statements, but would of course be possible in favourable circumstances, as in describing habitual action, where the will of another may be inferred from past experience. The last of all is a natural extension of the idiom even to things that have no will. All these 'habitual' uses are quite different from I will have my way; and though you will have your way is possible, it always has the 'habitual' meaning, which I will have my way is usually without.

All the forms in the above list, and others like them, have three peculiarities—that they are not practically futures as distinguished from presents; that they use Sh. for all persons, or W. for all persons, if the idea is appropriate to all persons; and that the ideas are simply, or with very little extension, those of command or obligation and wish.

The coloured-future system is so called because, while the future sense is more distinct, it is still coloured with the speaker's mood; command and wish receive extensions and include promise, permission, menace, consent, assurance, intention, refusal, offer, &c.; and the forms used are invariably those—from both Sh. and W.—that we called the practically useful ones in the pure system. That is, we have always

I will, shall I? You shall, will you? He shall, will he? We will, shall we? They shall, will they?

And the conditionals, should and would, should have and would have, are used with exactly the same variations. It will be borne in mind, however, that no clear line of division can be drawn between the pure system and the coloured-future system, since the latter is developed naturally (whereas the plain-future system is rather developed artificially) out of the former. And especially the questions of the coloured future are simply those of the pure system without any sort of modification.

Rule 2. The Coloured-Future System

In future and conditional statements that include (without the use of special words for the purpose) an expression of the speaker's (not necessarily of the subject's) wish, intention, menace, assurance, consent, refusal, promise, offer, permission, command, &c.—in such sentences the first person has W., the second and third persons Sh.

I will tell you presently. My promise.
You shall repent it before long. My menace.
He shall not have any. My refusal.
We would go if we could. Our conditional intention.
You should do it if we could make you. Our conditional command.
They should have had it if they had asked. My conditional consent.

The only questions possible here are the asking for orders and the requests already disposed of under Rule 1.

Observe that I would like (which is not English) is not justified by this rule, because the speaker's mood is expressed by like, and does not need double expression; it ought to be I should like, under Rule 3.

Observe also that I sha'n't, You will go to your room and stay there, are only apparent exceptions, which will be explained under Rule 3.

The archaic literary forms You shall find, A rogue shall often pass for an honest man, though now affected and pretentious, are grammatically defensible. The speaker asks us to take the fact on his personal assurance.

The forms little required in the pure system, and therefore ready to hand for making the new plain future, were I, and we, shall; you, he, and they, will. These accordingly constitute the plain future, and the corresponding forms of the plain conditional are used analogously. Questions follow the same rule, with one very important exception, which will be given a separate rule (4). We now give

Rule 3. The Plain-Future System

In plain statements about the future, and in the principal clause, result, or apodosis, of plain conditional sentences (whether the subordinate clause, condition, or if-clause, is expressed or not), the first person has Sh., the second and third persons W. Questions conform, except those of the second person, for which see Rule 4.

I shall, you will, die some day.
Shall I, will they, be here to-morrow?
We should, he would, have consented if you had asked.
Should we, would he, have missed you if you had been there?
I should, you would, like a bathe.
Should I, would he, like it myself, himself?

Some apparent exceptions, already anticipated, must here be explained. It may be said that I shall execute your orders being the speaker's promise, You will go to your room being the speaker's command, and Sha'n't (the nursery abbreviation for I shall not do it) being the speaker's refusal, these are all coloured futures, so that Sh. and W. should be reversed in each. They are such in effect, but they are not in form. In each, the other form would be possible and correct. The first is a promise only so far as the hearer chooses to take as a promise the plain future or impersonal prophecy; but the speaker emphasizes his obedience by implying that of course, since the order has been given, it will be executed; the matter is settled without his unimportant consent. The other two gain force by the opposite assumption that the speaker's will and the future are absolutely identical, so that what he intends may be confidently stated as a future fact. In the first example the desired submissiveness, in the other two the desired imperiousness, supercilious or passionate, are attained by the same impersonality.

Before giving the rule for second-person questions, we observe that questions generally follow the rule of the class of statement they correspond to. This was shown in the pure system (Rule 1). There are no questions (apart from those already accounted for by the pure system) belonging to the coloured future (Rule 2). In the plain future (Rule 3), first and third person questions are like the plain-future statements. But second-person questions under the plain future invariably use Sh. or W. according as the answer for which the speaker is prepared has Sh. or W. Care is necessary, however, in deciding what that answer is. In Should (would) you like a bathe? should is almost always right, because the answer expected is almost always either Yes, I should, or No, I should not, the question being asked for real information. It is true that Would you like? is very commonly used, like the equally wrong I would like; but it is only correct when the answer is intended to be given by the asker:—No, of course you would not. A clearer illustration of this is the following sentence, which requires Sh. or W. according to circumstances: Will (shall) you, now so fresh and fair, be in a hundred years nothing but mouldering dust?. This might possibly be asked in expectation of an answer from the person apostrophized—Yes, I shall. Much more probably it would be asked in expectation of the answer from the speaker himself to his own question—Alas! yes, you will. And shall ought to be used for the question only in the first case, will in the second case. Similarly, Ah, yes, that is all very well; but will (shall) you be able to do it? Use will if the answer is meant to be No, of course you will not; shall, if the answer expected is Yes, I shall, or No, I shall not.

In practice, Sh. is more commonly required, because questions asked for information are commoner than rhetorical ones. But observe the common Would you believe it?, Answer, No, of course you would not. Should you believe it?, also possible, would indicate real curiosity about the other person's state of mind, which is hardly ever felt. Would you believe it?, however, might also be accounted for on the ground that the answer would be No, I would not, which would be a coloured-future form, meaning I should never consent to believe.

Rule 4. Second-person Questions

Second-person questions invariably have Sh. or W. by assimilation to the answer expected.

It may be added, since it makes the application of the rule easier, that the second-person questions belonging not to the plain future but to the pure system are also, though not because of assimilation, the same in regard to Sh. and W. as their answers. Thus Will you come? Yes, I will (each on its merits), as well as Shall you be there? Yes, I shall (assimilation). Should you not have known? Yes, I should (each on its merits; should means ought), as well as What should you think? I should think you were right (assimilation). The true form for all second-person questions, then, can be ascertained by deciding what the expected answer is.

This completes what need be said about principal sentences, with the exception of one important usage that might cause perplexity. If some one says to me 'You would think so yourself if you were in my position', I may either answer 'No, I should not' regularly, or may catch up his word, and retain the W., though the alteration of person requires Sh. Thus—'Would I, though? No, I wouldn't'. Accordingly,

Rule 5. Echoes

A speaker repeating and adapting another's words may neglect to make the alteration from Sh. to W., or from W. to Sh., that an alteration of the person strictly requires.

We have now all the necessary rules for principal sentences, and can put down a few examples of the right usage, noteworthy for various reasons, and some blunders, the latter being illustrated in proportion to their commonness. The number of the rule observed or broken will be added in brackets for reference. The passage from Johnson with which the correct examples begin is instructive.


I would (2) injure no man, and should (3) provoke no resentment; I would (2) relieve every distress, and should (3) enjoy the benedictions of gratitude. I would (2) choose my friends among the wise, and my wife among the virtuous; and therefore should (3) be in no danger from treachery or unkindness. My children should (2) by my care be learned and pious, and would (3) repay to my age what their childhood had received.—Johnson.

Chatham, it should (1) seem, ought to have taken the same side.—Macaulay.

For instance, when we allege, that it is against reason to tax a people under so many restraints in trade as the Americans, the noble lord in the blue riband shall (2) tell you...—Burke.

The 'critic fly', if it do but alight on any plinth or single cornice of a brave stately building, shall (2) be able to declare, with its half-inch vision, that here is a speck, and there an inequality.—Carlyle.

John, why should you waste yourself (1) upon those ugly giggling girls?—R. G. White.

It wouldn't be quite proper to take her alone, would it? What should (4) you say?—R. G. White.

Whether I have attained this, the future shall decide (2. I consent to accept the verdict of the future).—Times.


We give first many examples of the mistake that is out of all proportion the commonest—using the coloured future when the speaker's mood is sufficiently given by a separate word. In the second example, for instance, I would ask the favour would be quite right, and would mean I should like to ask. As it stands, it means I should like to like to ask. The same applies to the other instances, which are only multiplied to show how dangerous this particular form is.

Among these ... I would be inclined to place (3) those who acquiesce in the phenomenalism of Mr. Herbert Spencer.—Daily Telegraph.

As one of the founders of the Navy League, I would like (3) to ask the favour of your well-known courtesy...—Times.

I would be glad (3) to have some account of his behaviour.—Richardson.

I would like (3) also to talk with you about the thing which has come to pass.—Jowett.

But give your definition of romance. I would like to hear it (3).—F. M. Crawford.

These are typical of thousands of paragraphs in the newspaper.... We would (3) wish for brighter news.—Westminster Gazette.

I have already had some offers of assistance, and I would be glad (3) to receive any amount towards the object.—Times.

Some examples follow that have not this excuse; and the first two deserve comment—the first because it results in serious ambiguity, the second because it is possibly not wrong.

The two fleets present seven Russian battleships against four Japanese—less than two to one; two Russian armoured cruisers against eight, and seven Russian torpedo-boat destroyers against an indefinite number of the enemy. Here we will (3) not exaggerate in attributing to the Japanese three or four to one.—Mahan.

With will, the meaning must be: We won't call them three or four to one, because that would be exaggeration. But the meaning is intended to be: We will call them that, and it will be no exaggeration. Shall is absolutely necessary, however, to make it bear that interpretation.

This character who delights us may commit murder like Macbeth, or fly the battle for his sweetheart as did Antony, or betray his country like Coriolanus, and yet we will rejoice (3) in every happiness that comes to him.—W. B. Yeats.

It is possible that this is the use of will described as the 'habitual' use—he will often stand on his head—under Rule 1. But this is very rare, though admissible, in the first person of the present. We shall rejoice, or simply we rejoice, would be the plain way of saying it.

If this passion was simply painful, we would (3) shun with the greatest care all persons and places that could excite such a passion.—Burke.

What would (3) we be without our appetites?—S. Ferrier.

If I was ever to be detected, I would (3) have nothing for it but to drown myself.—S. Ferrier.

I will (3) never forget, in the year 1858, one notorious revivalist.—Daily Telegraph.

As long as I am free from all resentment, hardness, and scorn, I would (3) be able to face the life with much more calm and confidence than I would...—Wilde.

In the next two, if 'I think', and the if-clause, were removed, the shall and will would stand, expressing resolve according to Rule 2. But with those additions it is clear that prophecy or pure future is meant; and shall and will should be will and shall.

Nothing, I think, shall ever make me (3) forgive him.—Richardson.

We were victorious in 1812, and we will (3) be victorious now at any cost, if we are strong in an alliance between the governing class and the governed.—Times.

We now proceed to Subordinate Clauses, and first to the Substantival. The word 'reported' will mean 'made indirect' or 'subordinated substantivally', not always actually reported.

Reported statement is quite simple when it is of the pure system or the coloured future; the Sh. or W. of the original statement is retained in the reported form, unaffected by any change of person that the reporting involves. Thus: (Pure system) He forgave me (you, or her), though he said I (you, or she) should not have left him in the lurch like that. (Coloured future) You said I (or he) should repent it; either of these is a report of either You shall repent it or He shall repent it. (Coloured future) You said you (or I said I) would apologize; both are reports of I will apologize.

But with the plain-future system there is difficulty and some inconsistency. The change of person sometimes required by reported speech has almost always the effect here of introducing Sh. if I or we appears in the words as reported, and usually the effect of introducing W. if you, he, or they, appears. The following are all the types in which doubt can arise, except that each of these may occur in either number, and in past or present. The form that would be required by analogy (keeping the original Sh. or W.) is given first, and the one generally used instead is added in brackets. Reporting I shall never succeed, we get

You said you should (would) never succeed.
He says he shall (will) never succeed.

Reporting you will (or he will) never succeed, we get

You say I will (shall) never succeed.
He said I would (should) never succeed.

Even those persons who have generally a just confidence in their own correctness about Sh. and W. will allow that they have some doubt about the first pair; and nearly every one will find W. in the second pair, however reasonable and consistent, intolerable.

If the reader will now go through the four sentences again, and substitute for succeed the phrase do it (which may or may not mean succeed), he will see that the orthodox should and shall of the first pair become actually more natural than the commoner would and will; and that even in the second pair will and would are now tolerable. The reason is that with do it there is risk of confusion with the reported forms of I will never do it and you shall never do it, which are not plain futures, but coloured futures meaning something quite different.

Reported questions present the same difficulties. Again those only are doubtful that belong to the plain future. There, for instance, reporting Shall you do it? we can say by the correct analogy I asked him whether he should; and we generally do so if the verb, as here, lends itself to ambiguity: I asked him whether he would do it is liable to be mistaken for the report of Will you do it?—a request. If on the other hand (as in reporting Shall you be there?) there is little risk of misunderstanding, I asked him whether he would is commoner. And again it is only in extreme cases, if even then, that the original W. can be kept when the report introduces I in place of the original question's you or he. For instance, the original question being How will he be treated?, it may be just possible to say You had made up your mind how I would be treated, because You had made up your mind how I should be treated almost inevitably suggests (assisted by the ambiguity of making up your mind, which may imply either resolve or inference) that the original question was How shall he be treated?

It would be well, perhaps, if writers who take their responsibilities seriously would stretch a point sometimes to keep the more consistent and less ambiguous usage alive; but for practical purposes the rule must run:

Rule 6. Substantival Clauses.

In these (whether 'reported' strictly or otherwise subordinated) pure-system or coloured-future forms invariably keep the Sh. or W. of the original statement or question, unaffected by any change of person. Reports of plain-future forms do this also, if there would be serious danger of ambiguity, but almost always have Sh. in the first person, and usually W. in the second and third persons.

As the division of substantival clauses into indirect (or reported or subordinate or oblique) statements, questions, and commands, is familiar, it may be well to explain that in English the reported command strictly so called hardly exists. In what has the force of a reported command it is in fact a statement that is reported. For instance, He said I was to go, though used as the indirect form of Go, is really the indirect of the statement You are to go. He ordered that they should be released (though the actual words were Be they, or Let them be, released) is formed on the coloured-future statement, They stall be released. It is therefore unnecessary to give special rules for reported command. But there are one or two types of apparent indirect command about which, though there is no danger of error, the reader may feel curious.

  1. I stipulate that I shall, you shall, he shall, do it. Why shall in all persons? because the original form is: I (you, he) shall do it, I stipulate that, where shall means am to, are to, is to; that is, it is a pure-system form.

  2. I beg that you (or he) will do it. He begs that I will do it. Again the original is pure-system: You (or he) will (i.e., you consent to) do it: that is what I beg. I will (i.e., I consent to) do it: that is what he begs.

  3. I beg that I (or he) shall not suffer for it. You begged that I should not suffer for it. Observe that b. has will and a. and c. shall, because it is only in b. that the volition of the subject of shall or will is concerned.

  4. I wish you would not sneeze. Before subordination this is: You will not sneeze: that is what I wish. W. remains, but will becomes would to give the remoteness always connected with wish, which is seen also, for instance, in I wish I were instead of I wish I be.

Before going on to examples of substantival clauses, we also register, again rather for the curious than for the practical reader, the peculiar but common use of should contained in the following:

It is not strange that his admiration for those writers should have been unbounded.—Macaulay.

In this use should goes through all persons and is equivalent to a gerund with possessive: that a man should be is the same as a man's being. We can only guess at its origin; our guess is that (1) should is the remote form for shall, as would for will in d. above, substituted in order to give an effect of generality; and (2) the use of shall is the archaic one seen in You shall find, &c. So: a man shall be afraid of his shadow; that a man should be afraid (as a generally observed fact) is strange.

After each of the substantival clauses, of which examples now follow, we shall say whether it is a reported (subordinated) statement, or question, and give what we take to be the original form of the essential words, even when further comment is unnecessary.

Examples of Sh. and W. in Substantival clauses.


You, my dear, believe you shall be unhappy, if you have Mr. Solmes: your parents think the contrary; and that you will be undoubtedly so, were you to have Mr. Lovelace.—Richardson.

Statement. The original of the first is I shall be; of the second, she will be. In this and the next three the strictly analogical form that we recommended is kept.

I have heard the Princess declare that she should not willingly die in a crowd.—Johnson.

Statement. I should not.

People imagine they should be happy in circumstances which they would find insupportably burthensome in less than a week.—Cowper.

Statement. We should. They would is not 'reported'.

Do you really fancy you should be more beholden to your correspondent, if he had been damning you all the time for your importunity?—Stevenson.

Statement. I should be.

The nation had settled the question that it would not have conscription.—Times.

Statement. We will not. The blundering insertion of the question—perhaps due to some hazy notion of 'putting the question'—may be disregarded.

When the war will end still depends on Japan.—Times.

Question. When will it end?

Shaftesbury's anger vented itself in threats that the advisers of this dissolution should pay for it with their heads.—J. R. Green.

Statement. You shall pay.

He [i. e., James II] regarded his ecclesiastical supremacy as a weapon.... Under Henry and Elizabeth it had been used to turn the Church of England from Catholic to Protestant. Under James it should be used to turn it back again.—J. R. Green.

Statement. Under me it shall be. The reporting word not expressed.

She could not bear the sight of all these things that reminded her of Anthony and of her sin. Perhaps she should die soon; she felt very feeble.—Eliot.

Statement. I shall. Again the reporting word absent.

There will never perhaps be a time when every question between London and Washington shall be laid at rest.—Times.

This is not properly speaking reported speech. But the shall is accounted for by a sort of allusion to a supposed prophecy—every question shall one day be laid at rest. In that prophecy, shall would convey that the prophet gave his personal guarantee for it, and would come under Rule 2. This is not to be confused with the use of shall in indefinite clauses that will be noticed later.


The four began their descent, not knowing at what step they should meet death nor which of them should reach the shore alive.—F. M. Crawford.

Questions. At what step shall we meet? Which of us will reach? The first is accordingly right, the second wrong. The modern writer—who has been at the pains to use the strictly correct should in the first place rather than the now common would—has not seen, as Richardson did in the first of the right examples, that his two clauses are dissimilar.

I hope that our sympathy shall survive these little revolutions undiminished.—Stevenson.

Statement. Will survive. It is possible, however, that the original was thought of, or rather felt, as Our sympathy shall survive. But as the effect of that is to give the speaker's personal guarantee for the truth of the thing, it is clearly not a proper statement to make dependent on the doubtful word hope.

After mentioning the advance made in reforms of the military force of the country he [Lord Lansdowne] announced that the Government should not oppose the motion, readily availing themselves of Lord Wemyss's suggestion that...—Times.

Statement. We shall not, or the Government will not. Probably Lord Lansdowne said we, and that accounts for should. But if The Times chooses to represent we by the Government, it must also represent shall by would.

It came with a strange stunning effect upon us all—the consciousness that never again would we hear the grind of those positive boot-heels on the gravel.—Crockett.

Statement. We shall never.

I think that if the matter were handed over to the parish councils ... we would within a twelvemonth have exactly such a network of rifle clubs as is needed.—Conan Doyle.

Statement. We should. Of these two instances it may be thought that the writers would have made the mistake in the original unsubordinated sentence, instead of its arising in the process of subordination; our experience is, however, that many people do in fact go wrong in subordinate clauses who are alive to the danger in simple sentences.

The Prime Minister ... would at once have asked the Opposition if they could suggest any further means for making the inquiry more drastic and complete, with the assurance that if they could suggest any such means, they would at once be incorporated in the Government scheme.—Spectator.

Statement. They shall be incorporated. We have classed this as wrong on the assumption, supported by the word assurance, that the Prime Minister gave a promise, and therefore used the coloured future, and did not state a fact and use the plain future.

Another type of subordinate clause important for Sh. and W. is the conditional protasis or if-clause. It is not necessary, nor with modern writers usual, to mark the future or conditional force of this separately, since it is sufficiently indicated by the apodosis. For instance, If you come I shall be glad; if you came I should be glad; if you had come I should have been glad. But in formal style or with a slight difference of meaning, it is often superfluously done in the protasis too. Sh. is then used for all persons, as, If he should come, you would learn how the matter stands. So

Japan will adhere to her pledge of neutrality unless Russia shall first violate hers.—Times.

But to the rule that the protasis takes shall there are three exceptions, real or apparent; W. is found under the following circumstances:

  1. An original pure-system or coloured-future W. is not changed to Sh. by being used in subordination to if (or unless). It is retained with its full original force instead of some verb like wish or choose. In If we would believe we might move mountains, the meaning is If we chose to believe, different from that of If we believed or should believe. So

    It would be much better if you would not be so hypocritical, Captain Wybrow.—Eliot.

    If you consented not to be, or did not insist on being.

    It would be valuable if he would somewhat expand his ideas regarding local defence by Volunteers.—Times.

    If he consented to.

  2. When the if-clause (though a genuine condition) is incorrectly expressed for the sake of brevity and compresses two verbs into one, the W. proper to the retained verb is sometimes necessarily used instead of the Sh. proper to the verb that, though it contains in strict logic the essential protasis, has been crushed out. Thus: If it will be useless I shall prefer not to do it. It is not the uselessness that is the condition of the preference; for the use or uselessness is subsequent to the decision; it is my conviction of the uselessness; so that the full form would be If I shall be (or am in ordinary speech) convinced that it will be useless, I shall prefer, &c. The following example can be defended on this ground, if never again will he standing for if he shall realize that he will never; the feebleness that decides his not wishing is subsequent to it, and can only condition it if taken in the sense of his anticipation of feebleness.

    And if there is to be no recovery, if never again will he be young and strong and passionate, if the actual present shall be to him always like a thing read in a book or remembered out of the far-away past; he will not greatly wish for the continuance of a twilight that...—Stevenson.

    The next is more difficult only because, besides the compression, the if-clause is protasis not to the expressed main sentence, but to another that is suppressed.

    I shall wait for fine weather, if that will ever come.—R. G. White.

    Given fully, this would run: I shall wait for fine weather; (at least I should say so) if (I were sure that) that will ever come.

  3. When an if-clause is not a condition at all, as for instance where it expresses contrast, and is almost equivalent to although, the ordinary plain-future use prevails. Thus: If annihilation will end our joys it will also end our griefs. Contrast with this the real condition, in: If annihilation shall end (or ends) our joys, we shall never regret the loss of them.

Indefinite clauses, relative or other, bearing the same relation to a conditional or future principal sentence that a conditional protasis bears to its apodosis follow the same rules. Thus Whoever compares the two will find is equivalent to If any one compares; When we have won the battle we can decide that question is equivalent to If ever we have won. Accordingly we can if we choose write Whoever shall compare, and When we shall have won; but we cannot write When we will have won, and must only write Whoever will compare if we distinctly mean Whoever chooses to compare. As there is sometimes difficulty in analysing indefinite clauses of this sort, one or two instances had better be considered.

The candidate who should have distinguished himself most was to be chosen.

This is clear enough; it is equivalent to if any one should have ... he was...

We must ask ourselves what victory will cost the Russian people when at length it will become possible to conclude the peace so ardently desired.—Times.

Equivalent to If ever it at length becomes. Will is therefore wrong; either becomes, or shall become.

Nothing can now prevent it from continuing to distil upwards until there shall be no member of the legislature who shall not know...—Huxley.

This is a complicated example. The shalls will be right if it appears that each shall-clause is equivalent to a conditional protasis. We may show it by starting at the end as with the house that Jack built and constructing the sentence backwards, subordinating by stages, and changing will to shall as the protases come in; it will be allowed that until means to the time when, and that when may be resolved into if ever. Thus we get: a. One will know. b. None will be a member of the legislature unless one shall know. c. It will distil to the time if ever none shall be a member unless one shall know.

Think what I will about them, I must take them for politeness' sake.—R. G. White.

Although think what I will is an indefinite relative clause, meaning practically whatever I think, will here is right, the strict sense being whatever I choose to think. Indeed the time of think is probably not, at any rate need not be, future at all; compare Think what I will, I do not tell my thoughts.

We now give

Rule 7. Conditional protasis and Indefinite Clauses

In the protasis or if-clause of conditional sentences Sh. may be used with all persons. Generally neither Sh. nor W. is used. W. is only used (1) when the full meaning of wish is intended; it may then be used with all persons; (2) when the protasis is elliptically expressed; W. may then be necessary with the second and third persons; (3) when the if-clause is not a real conditional protasis; there is then no reason for Sh. with second and third persons. Indefinite clauses of similar character follow the same rules.

A few right but exceptional, and some wrong subordinate clauses may now be added.

Examples of Sh. and W. in Subordinate Clauses.


As an opiate, or spirituous liquors, shall suspend the operation of grief...—Burke.

We may conceive Mr. Worldly Wiseman accosting such an one, and the conversation that should thereupon ensue.—Stevenson.

She is such a spare, straight, dry old lady—such a pew of a woman—that you should find as many individual sympathies in a chip.—Dickens.

In these three we have the archaic shall of personal assurance that comes under Rule 2, and its corresponding conditional, appearing in subordinate clauses. There is no objection to it except that, in modern writers, its context must be such as to exonerate it from the charge of affectation.

The longing of the army for a fresh struggle which should restore its glory.—J. R. Green.

This use of Sh. after final relatives is seen, if the compound sentence is resolved, to point to an original coloured future: We long for a fresh struggle; a fresh struggle shall restore (that is, we intend it to restore) our glory.

He was tormented by that restless jealousy which should seem to belong only to minds burning with the desire of fame.—Macaulay.

This is the should seem explained under Rule 1 appearing also as subordinate.


It should never be, but often is, forgotten that when the apodosis of a conditional sentence (with or without expressed protasis) is subordinate it is nevertheless still an apodosis, and has still Sh. in the first, W. in the second and third persons.

In 'he struck him a blow', we do not feel the first object to be datival, as we would in 'he gave him a blow'.—H. Sweet.

I cannot let the moment pass at which I would have been enjoying a visit to you after your severe illness without one word of sympathy.—Gladstone.

It would mean that I would always be haunted by an intolerable sense of disgrace.—Wilde.

But though I would not willingly part with such scraps of science, I do not set the same store by them.—Stevenson.

We must reconcile what we would like to do with what we can do.—Times.

All these are wrong; in the last two the mistake is perhaps accounted for by the presence of willingly and like. I would not willingly can indeed be defended at the cost of admitting that willingly is mere tautology, and saying that I would not means I should not consent to, according to Rule 2.

It may be worth while to add that the subordinate apodosis still follows the rule even if it is subordinated to if, so that it is part of the protasis of another conditional sentence. The following, which is of course quite correct, seems, but only seems, to break the rules both for protasis and apodosis: If you would be patient for yourself, you should be patient for me. But we have W. with second person in the protasis because would be patient is also apodosis to the implied protasis if occasion should arise; and the should with second person in the apodosis is not a conditional should at all, but a pure-system should, which would be the same with any person; it means simply you ought, or it would be your duty.

The result in part of a genuine anxiety lest the Chinese would gradually grow until they monopolized the country.—Times.

We have purposely refrained until now from invoking the subjunctive, because the word is almost meaningless to Englishmen, the thing having so nearly perished. But on this instance it must be remarked that when conjunctions like lest, which could once or still can take a subjunctive (as lest he die), use a compound form instead, they use the Sh. forms for all persons. It is a matter of little importance, since hardly any one would go wrong in such a sentence.


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