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  1. #1
    LiuJing is offline Member
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    Default Should be absent/were absent

    I am learning the usage of 'should' and one usage says:

    The teacher was astonished that 10 students should be absent today.

    The book says it means 'the teacher was astonished that 10 students were absent today', but the word 'should' stresses the degree of the astonishment. Is the explanation right in your opinion?

    Thank you in advance.

  2. #2
    abaka is offline Senior Member
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    Default Re: Should be absent/were absent

    Yes. Exactly right. The "should" expresses a more unlikely case than the simple past, and therefore the teacher's astonishment is even greater.

    Note the three hypotheticals, in decreasing probability:

    1. If ten students are absent (at least as likely as the students' presence)
    2. If ten students should be absent (a possibility)
    3. If ten students were to be absent. (a more hypothetical possibility)

    In the construction with "that", "were to be" is not an option, but "that 10 students were absent today" is still less probable than "that 10 students were [=past of are] absent today".

  3. #3
    abaka is offline Senior Member
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    Default Re: Should be absent/were absent

    I should think the less likely the event, the greater the astonishment -- and the greater the astonishment, the less likely the event. Otherwise why be astonished at all? Ten absences certainly require greater explanation than two!

    In other words, the "should" connotes both how improbable ten absences are, AND the teacher's astonishment -- just as LiuJing's textbook says, and in perfect agreement with the order of decreasing probability I quoted.

  4. #4
    LiuJing is offline Member
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    Default Re: Should be absent/were absent

    Quote Originally Posted by Gillnetter View Post
    I would understand "should" in this context to mean that the teacher was astonished that such an event would occur. I don't see how the degree of astonishment is referred to here, it is pointing more to the fact that such a large number of students were not in attendance.
    Can I rephrase it to mean the same by: the teacher just couldn't believe the fact that ten students were absent today.

  5. #5
    abaka is offline Senior Member
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    Default Re: Should be absent/were absent

    Quote Originally Posted by LiuJing View Post
    Can I rephrase it to mean the same by: the teacher just couldn't believe the fact that ten students were absent today.
    Yes.

  6. #6
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    Barb_D is offline Moderator
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    Default Re: Should be absent/were absent

    No.
    You could say greatly surprised that so many students were absent but not change it to disbelief.
    I'm not a teacher, but I write for a living. Please don't ask me about 2nd conditionals, but I'm a safe bet for what reads well in (American) English.

  7. #7
    abaka is offline Senior Member
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    Default Re: Should be absent/were absent

    "I can't believe" is a common enough colloquialism that really just means "i am shocked" or "I am very surprised". Astonishment and disbelief overlap.

    Yes.

  8. #8
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    bhaisahab is offline Moderator
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    Default Re: Should be absent/were absent

    Quote Originally Posted by abaka View Post
    "I can't believe" is a common enough colloquialism that really just means "i am shocked" or "I am very surprised". Astonishment and disbelief overlap.

    Yes.
    It's not suitable in the context of the English classroom.

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