In British English it's probably most natural to use should:

It's surprising that he should say that to you.
I'm sorry you should forget my birthday.

But I'm not sure about the American way of saying the same sentences. I know in commands, demands, suggestions, and statements of necessity they tend to use the subjunctive mood. But what about personal reactions and judgments? Should the subjunctive mood be used? :

It's surprising that he say that to you.

Or should it be like:

I'm sorry you forgot my birthday.


I'm sorry you would forget my birthday.

Or what?

  • 1
    Possible duplicate of should: It's funny you should say that
    – user140086
    Commented Nov 4, 2015 at 13:06
  • 1
    @Rathony Did you read my question (or the one in your comment for that matter)?!
    – Færd
    Commented Nov 4, 2015 at 13:12
  • 1
    Do you think I posted it without reading it?
    – user140086
    Commented Nov 4, 2015 at 13:18
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    @Rathony Thank you for the link, but that question is mainly about the specific meaning of "should", and says nothing about the dialectal differences, which is the main point of my question.
    – Færd
    Commented Nov 4, 2015 at 13:48

1 Answer 1


The American way would probably use "would" instead of "should".

It's surprising that he would say that to you.

EDIT: I wouldn't know where to begin to find such a source, but as a native American English speaker I can tell you with confidence that in order to express surprise over the fact that someone did something, the structure is "I can't believe [x] would [y]", "can't believe" being an idiomatic hyperbole for "it's really surprising".

"Should" is pretty much exclusively used to describe something that a person "ought to do" ("You should do your laundry today") or an expected result "this should be accurate".

The subjunctive "Should you need me, I will be here" is considered archaic in American English.

Your edit:

I'm sorry you should forget my birthday.

sounds entirely foreign to me. If they forgot my birthday, I would say "I'm sorry you forgot my birthday". If they haven't yet forgotten my birthday, but I want to indicate that I would be displeased if they did, I would say "I would be disappointed if you forgot my birthday."

Generally speaking if it's regarding an event that did in fact happen, we wouldn't use the subjunctive, preferring a past tense. After all, the subjunctive is for conditional structures. If it actually happened it's not conditional. The only exception I can think of to that is the case I gave above "I can't believe [x] would [y] (implied: but obviously [x] did)".

I'm not entirely certain that I'm reading your first example correctly though:

It's surprising that he should say that to you.

The more accurate analog of this sentence might be:

It would be surprising if he said that to you.

  • 1
    I think there is a slight difference in meaning when you say "would" in place of "should".
    – user140086
    Commented Nov 4, 2015 at 14:13
  • Based on the example "It's surprising that he said that to you," I believe the question involves an action that has happened. In American English the most common way to say this is "I can't believe he would say that to you," but "It's surprising that he would say that to you" means the same thing.
    – Tevis
    Commented Nov 4, 2015 at 14:20
  • I'd be thankful if you backed up your theory by citing an authority or referring to a source.
    – Færd
    Commented Nov 5, 2015 at 3:02

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