I have a question about certain conditional sentences. Specifically with these rules:

If + present = future For example: "If I win the lottery, I will go to France."

If + past = conditional (preterit form of a modal) For example: "If I won the lottery, I would go to France."

My question is about the use of should with these rules (in American English). Why is it okay to say "If I win the lottery, I should donate to charity," or "If you have the time you should read this book"? Why is it acceptable to use the preterit form of shall if the rule demands the future?

A secondary question: As a native speaker of English, I find it acceptable to use could with both 'If + present' and 'If + past' clauses. Is that wrong, or is it simply a particularity of spoken English?

1 Answer 1


Putting aside the outdated business of switching 'would' and 'should' with first-person forms, which I hope is dead ... Your first two examples mean pretty much the same, except that "WILL go to France" is more decisive that "WOULD go to France". But 'should' in modern usage means 'ought to', so that's a different sense, and 'could' is different again, meaning "I'd be able to ... [but I might not]".

  • The other usage of "should" hasn't died out completely, even in America, but the examples do seem to call for the "ought to" interpretation Jan 29, 2015 at 14:18

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