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Maybe I've asked this before, but what exactly do you native people feel the difference between 'If it should happen' and 'If it were to happen'? Is it just the matter of formality, the first one being more formal than the second one?
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TakaMaybe I've asked this before, but what exactly do you native people feel the difference between 'If it should happen' and 'If it were to happen'? Is it just the matter of formality, the first one being more formal than the second one?
I use both, and I have no feeling of difference in formality. "If it happened" is also common, and if any of the choices is less formal, this is the one. [Just don't allow "if it was to happen".]
PhilipI use both, and I have no feeling of difference in formality.
So, aside from formality, you don't really see any difference at all between those two?
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TakaMaybe I've asked this before, but what exactly do you native people feel the difference between 'If it should happen' and 'If it were to happen'? Is it just the matter of formality, the first one being more formal than the second one?
  • If today should happen the end of the world - it does not say it will not happen, it is just creating a highly unlikely premise, it says what if conditions for it are fulfilled today
  • If today were to happen the end of the world - it is not going to happen today, most probably, but let us imagine it
  • If I were a king or butterfly - I can't be either a king or butterfly, or at least I know that I am not now, but let us imagine that
  • If I should be a king or butterfly - this is just a perspective of saying what would I do if I am about to become a king or butterfly, or the circumstances are such that I will inevitably become one, it disregards the (im)possibility of the event
  • If I should be born a king - if it was somehow my destiny, if it were a destiny for me to be born a king (this could mean if my father were a king)
  • If I should be born again - nice, I do not question if it is possible or impossible that much, I just say what if being born again is possible and I have got that chance
  • If I were born a king - if it happened that I was born a king, though it did not
  • (If I had been born a king - is a true irrational assumption)
  • If I were born again - I probably do not believe that much that it is possible and it didn't happen, but I am saying what if
  • I wonder, if it should happen for me to be born in another era, how I would be feeling. - ok ( If the conditions were different and I was born in another era )
  • If I should happen to do something illegal, I would be arrested. - I do not say it is (im)possible, I am saying I do not do that at the moment adding the consequences or maybe the exact reason why I am not thinking about doing something illegal. ( = If I were in a life situation forced to do something illegal)


  • The difference is very slim, and for many cases it is not important but it does exist:

    • With should I am more shifting my mind to the past and there I am thinking about the time of the event (present) as the unknown future.
    • With were I am more in the present and now I observe the imagined event. This one I am shifting deliberately to the past, knowing that the event didn't really happen or it is irrelevant (I am imagining it) - and the past is the only realm of my knowing about the events that did or did not happen. The past is the only place where I could shift the event and claim that it did not happen.

      1. With should you are saying if all what is needed for event to happen is fulfilled (however (un)likely that could be)
      2. With were you are saying simply if event happens (though we know it didn't, we imagine what if)


      3. Shortly:

        • if it should happen = if each condition for the event were fulfilled

        • if it were to happen = imagine that the event is happening now
        (Sorry, I know I was clumsy here, but it was very difficult for me to extract the true difference. I don't know how many times I reedited this post)
I think that in the U.S. the forms with should (If it should happen) pretty much died out in my grandfather's generation. So they sound very old-fashioned to me. The forms with were to (If it were to happen) also seem to be dying out. In any case they are not frequently used. So they sound only somewhat old-fashioned or unusual to me. Both are much less used than If it happens or If it happened.

That said, the should forms seem to me to indicate a greater likelihood that the happening will take place. This is probably because the should constructions go with the non-past forms (imperative, future tense) and the were to constructions go with would.

If you should see him at the market, tell him to call home at once.
If you were to visit the jungles of the Amazon, you would be amazed at the variety of species.


CJ
This above mentioned usage of should with the imperative is actually vague about the possibility and impossibility.

If she should be at the office, call her at the meeting

In case it happens that she is at the office (which is possible because for example: though at this hour she's usually left home, still we saw her doing long hours many times), call her at the meeting.

There is nothing generally impossible about the event; it is just possible that it is not currently in effect. We do not imagine it in any sense; we just say that under the circumstances that event has happened, that conditions are fulfilled for it to happen, we will act in a certain way or order someone to do something. That is why the imperative is possible. It says what to do if the if condition is realized.

It is not wet there, but if it should be raining, trust me, it can't be pouring down. Just open your umbrella for a few minutes and it will pass.

If you should fall in love again, don’t make the same mistake.

Compare:

If she were at the office, we would call her at the meeting. (we have no reason to believe that she is at the office or it is irrelevant at the moment, we either say what we would generally do if she is still there or we imagine that she is there, which is not impossible or the possibility is actually irrelevant)

If she had been at the office, we would have called her at the meeting (she was not at the office but if she was we would call her)

And just to have it here: the frequency of different forms

  • "if it should happen" 119.000 Google usages
  • "if it were to happen" 92.200 usages
  • "if it is happening" 69.900 usages
  • "if it happened" 942.000 usages
  • "if it happens" 2.720.000 usages
  • "if it can happen" 102.000 usages
  • "if it could happen" 62.900 usages
  • "if it had happened" 153.000 usages
  • "if it was to happen" 9.530 usages
  • "if it is to happen" 12.300 usages


  • (these do not include only conditional forms but are interesting nonetheless)

    So should happen and were to happen is less used than had happened. Though we can't compare the meanings, I guess, had happened is not that frequent.
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CalifJimI think that in the U.S. the forms with should (If it should happen) pretty much died out in my grandfather's generation. So they sound very old-fashioned to me.
Would should it happen be any different, in your opinion?
I'm asking as I find plenty of at The New York Times, in recent articles:

  1. The Modern Hunter-Gatherer

    ... , which, should it happen, will do so at ...

    March 26, 2006 - By Michael Pollan (NYT) - Magazine - News - 9053 words
  2. First Steps and First Controversies for State Security Agency

    ... attack or, should it happen, help in the response ...

    February 17, 2004 - By AL BAKER and MARC SANTORA (NYT) - New York and Region - News - 1628 words
  3. THE WAY WE LIVE NOW: 3-02-03: PROCESS; My Week at Embed Boot Camp

    ... War II, should it happen, will provide correspondents with ...

    March 2, 2003 - By Andrew Jacobs (NYT) - Magazine - News - 1559 words
  4. Market Place; AOL's chairman takes a few moments to define his role and to calm jittery investors.

    ... be that, should it happen with us, I would ...

    October 2, 2002 - By David D. Kirkpatrick (NYT) - Business - News - 973 words
  5. For 'New Danes,' Differences Create a Divide

    ... On what terms should it happen, and how can it ...

    December 18, 2000 - By ROGER COHEN (NYT) - World - Series - 3236 words
Would should it happen be any different, in your opinion?
No. That sounds equally old-fashioned to me! In fact, the inversion makes it even more quaint.
Have you tried looking up the more usual equivalent if it happens? How do the frequencies compare?

Too bad Google doesn't go back 100 years. I think we'd have got different comparative frequencies back in those days.

I'm not saying it's completely died out. I'm sure you'll find examples of it for many, many years to come. But I think it's showing most of its staying power in the realm of the written rather than the spoken.

CJ
Too bad Google doesn't go back 100 years. I think we'd have got different comparative frequencies back in those days.

No, I think it is quite contrary. Google supports what you are saying:

  • 2.720.000 if it happens regular usage

  • 942.000 if it happened regular usage

  • 153.000 if it had happened regular usage but not frequently needed

  • 119.000 if it should happen low usage because had happened should be less used, because the meaning of had happened is not what people need to say that frequently

  • 102.000 if it can happen we could say that this not a common structure but you can still compare its usage frequency with should happen and were to happen; so they are not frequent either

  • 92.200 if it were to happen even lower usage than should happen

  • 69.900 if it is happening not a common structure

  • 62.900 if it could happen not a common structure

  • 12.300 if it is to happen by usage it is almost an error (though it is not)

  • 9.530 if it was to happen not a common structure (interesting that were is far more used than was in this context though grammar books say that was is more common today than were in similar contexts)
For me this is a clear proof that if it should happen and if it were to happen are indeed less used than I would guess the need for them should be. It can’t be that they are needed only as frequent as had happened is. It is not logical. So they are not very frequent now, but neither totally excluded, so I guess they do die out. Maybe it is time to revive them.Emotion: smile It wouldn't be the first not the last time.
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