Translating the word "should"

Carl W. Conrad cwconrad at
Wed May 1 05:14:51 EDT 2002

At 12:40 AM -0400 5/1/02, Jason Butler wrote:
>I have not been able to find the Greek word that is translated as
>"should".  I have gone through the English concordance and looked at all
>of the verses that use the word should, and then looked at the
>corresponding Greek text. I have yet to find one a word that translates as
>should.  I also have not seen any patter, i.e. a particular mood or voice
>that insinuates the word should.  Although, I did notice that INA is used
>in quite a few of the "should" verses.  Can anyone enlighten me as to
>where the translators get "should"?

I don't know if this is the case, but I think you may be under the
misapprehension of early-stage language-learners that there's essentially a
word-for-word correspondence between Greek and English or Japanese and
English or Finnish and German. That's simply not so.

"Should" as a modal auxiliary is used in (at least) two very different ways
in English: (1) to express obligation (e.g., "you ought--you really SHOULD,
you know ...") and (2) to express a degree of contingency or possibility
(e.g., "I should like someday to visit China"). This second sense is pretty
clearly obsolescent, certainly in American spoken English, perhaps to a
lesser degree in the written language; nevertheless it persists in
traditional texts and in literature that heavily imitates traditional texts
such as the King James Bible. When English "should" serves in this second
function (or in the days when it used to serve in that second function), it
quite commonly gets expressed in Greek by a verb in the subjunctive or
optative mood, depending on the degree of likelihood of the conditional
proposition, e.g.:

	"Whoever should see such things will be utterly amazed" =
	(but nowadays the English equivalent of that Greek would more
likely be,
	"Anyone who sees such things will be utterly amazed."

	"Whoever should see such things would be utterly amazed" =
	(but nowadays the English equivalent of the Greek would more likely be,
	"Anyone who sees such things would be utterly amazed."

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Emeritus)
Most months:: 1647 Grindstaff Road/Burnsville, NC 28714/(828) 675-4243
cwconrad at OR cwconrad at

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