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(a) If such a thing were to happen, what shall we do?
(b) If such a thing should happen, what shall we do?

You might say there is not much difference between them. But if any, what kind of difference do you native speakers feel there is between (a) and (b)?

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Hi Taka,

(a) If such a thing were to happen, what shall we do?
(b) If such a thing should happen, what shall we do?

You might say there is not much difference between them. But if any, what kind of difference do you native speakers feel there is between (a) and (b)?
First, I think that instead of 'shall', you need to use 'should' or 'would' in the second half of both sentences. 'Would' would be the more commonly used of the two.


Assuming my suggested change is OK with you, then here's my opinion. To me, B suggests a bit more possibility that the thing might actually happen.

Clive
"were to" is a bit redundant.

If such a thing happened, / If such a thing were to happen,

With "should", we also use this word to indicate actions we expect. I usually hear both omitted, with should being used less. If you want to place any emphasis, you could use "has to".

If that has to happen, what should we do?

Compare the above two examples with:

If condition A is met, then that should........

Here, we don't use "were to". Again, there is something expected rather than just observed.
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In comparison to "if such a thing happened",
"if such a thing were to happen" strikes me as being in a higher register (i.e., sounds more formal),
and "if such a thing should happen" sounds old-fashioned and school-marmy.

Other than these factors, which have little to do with the actual meaning, which is virtually identical, I feel no differences. Not all native speakers will have the same feelings, of course. De gustibus non disputandum est.

CJ
Thank you, people.

I should have given different examples. Please forget the verb 'happen'.

(a) If I were to die tomorrow, what would I do?
(b) If I should die tomorrow, what would I do?

I'm interested in the difference in terms of the subjectivity of judgements about the thing that might happen. Is there any difference? One is more subjective than the other? Or no difference at all in this respect?
Hi Taka,

(a) If I were to die tomorrow, what would I do?
(b) If I should die tomorrow, what would I do?


Well, if I died tomorrow, I wouldn't be able to do anything, would I? (Ha-ha)

Clive
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Oh, man! That's a terrible typo! I meant to say:

(a) If I were to die tomorrow, what would you do?
(b) If I should die tomorrow, what would you do?


Hi Clive,

"if I died tomorrow"- I am curious to understand if it is a correct sentence?
Hi Krish,

Yes. I believe this is called 'conditional two'.

Best wishes, Clive

Hi Taka,

Well, that was fun. Now, back to business. I still think number two hints at a bit more possibility.

(a) If I were to die tomorrow, what would you do?
(b) If I should die tomorrow, what would you do?


If I were in my hospital bed waiting for a heart operation tomorrow, I think I'd be just a little bit more inclined to say B to my wife rather than A.

I don't think imminent death is an excuse for using language imprecisely, do you?

Clive
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