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Suppose one of your clients emailed you a few weeks ago saying that it may want to hold a big conference at a certain conference center. You do not know yet if it has decided to proceed with the plan or cancel it but you realize that if the former is the case, you have to secure the venue today. It is up to the client to decide and it is your job to follow its instructions.

Would it be correct to ask the client:

Should the conference center be booked?

Should I book the conference center

My question is about the word "should."

I believe the use of "should" here is not exactly appropriate because "should" is used to say what is the right of sensible thing to do. In this case, however, there is no value judgement involved on your part. If the client wants to hold a conference, you automatically have to book the center. Otherwise there is absolutely no need to book it.

But then I sometimes see "should" used in contexts like this.

Would you say the sentences above sound natural in this context?

Thank you.

  • Of course there's a "value judgement" involved. It's just that if you ask someone Should I do this? you're effectively handing over responsibility for that judgement call to someone else. In your specific case it might be a pretty straightforward decision (if the conference is still scheduled, book the venue, otherwise don't). But the client might decide to tell you to book the venue even if it's not yet certain (better to write off the cost of an unused booking than allow it to become logistically impossible before a final decision has been made). – FumbleFingers Jul 1 '18 at 17:19
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You can use 'should' without any value judgement when you are discussing e.g. necessity. It can be used when discussing obligation, duty, or correctness. When you ask a business client if, in view of some circumstance, you should do something, you are merely asking if they want you to do that thing.

Should (Oxford)

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According to Merriam-Webster, one definition of "should" is:

used as a more polite or less assured form of shall

I believe that applies in this case.

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  • Yes, that's right. It is also BrE to say: "I should do it if I were you", to mean would. – Lambie Jul 1 '18 at 18:19

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