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I know with time clauses we only use either Present or Past tense like

If it rains, I will bring an umbrella

but NOT

If it shall/will rain,I will bring an umbrella.

But in this below example I don't understand why "should" is used instead of Past tense.link

"John left for the front; by the time he should return, the field would have been burnt to stubble."

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  • It's an odd sentence. I'm not sure whether should return means was expected to return, or whether it's saying that, from the perspective of the present day, we know that by the time he returned the field had been burnt. If the latter, I would have used would rather than should. – Kate Bunting May 8 '20 at 11:55
  • But would you use "would" or "should" though? It should be Simple past because of the time clause,right? I mean it makes sense with "would" or "should" but purely grammatically speaking past tense is the most appropriate, right? – English--more exc than laws May 8 '20 at 12:03
  • The speaker is saying that, at the time of John's departure, his return was still in the future. That is the reason for the change of tense. – Kate Bunting May 8 '20 at 12:12
  • So, can I use Past tense and still be understood or is it necessary for me to use "would"? – English--more exc than laws May 8 '20 at 12:23
  • When one says, "He said that he loved her", it doesn't mean at this time, if he (still) loves her, or doesn't love her. Unless one refers to universal truths like, "Galileo said that the earth is round (not was round)" because the earth is still round, the above change in tense is the accepted way. – Ram Pillai May 8 '20 at 13:00

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