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Reply to "verb tenses"

Hello Joan and all:
It was surprising that he _____ the crime.
(a) should have committed
(b)should commit
(c)is supposed to commit
(d)ought to commit


‘It was surprising that he should have committed the crime’ is, of course, correct. (I believe that ‘should commit’ is also correct, and I’ll refer to it later in this posting.)

Chuncan Feng’s addition of ‘….that he committed the crime’ is also correct, and would be the most frequent phrase used in my idiolect, (even though this choice is not available here).

Alexwlh’s suggestions are fine, too, and include this correct sentence: ‘It was surprising that he had committed the crime.’ (This sentence is not included in the choices, either.)

There are no instances of ‘was surprising that * should have’ at the New York Times, during the last twelve months. However, in the years from 1851 to one year ago, there are 74 hits, like these:

• ... so far as known, who blushed because of the meanness of that " trick," it was surprising that he should have expressed himself just as he did. ...August 28, 1901

• Peel retorted, with dignity, that since the honorable member held those views of him it was surprising that he should have been ready to unite his fortunes ...February 5, 1899

• After so prolonged and rapid a decline in values it was not surprising that on Friday Wall Street should have begun to hear that such a, situation had ...November 22, 1920.

At Google Books, there are 14 hits – from examples like these:

• Celia Thaxter, Sarah Orne Jewett, Emily Dickinson, Cairns Collection of American Women Writers - Language Arts & Disciplines - 1893
... mild whims of her own, but it was surprising that she should have left her
room in disorder, the bed unmade ; that was not like her studious neatness. ...

• David Cecil - Biography & Autobiography - 1965 - 556 pages
It was surprising that Melbourne should have agreed because Owen, in addition to
being universally recognized as one of the greatest bores alive, ...

• Pierre Honoré - History - 1963 - 228 pages
It was surprising that mummies should have been found here, a country with a
climate most unfavourable for conservation. But chemical analysis has ..

My feeling is that this construction, while correct, was used more frequently in the past and might be used today in formal or academic writing.

As for ‘was surprising that * should’ + the base form of the verb, Marcella Frank* has nothing on this construction, but does on ‘was surprised that * should.’ (This can be paraphrased to ‘ * was surprised that * should.’)

She describes some participial adjectives, including ‘surprised,’ in a list of adjectives that allow ‘that’ clauses after them. She states:

• The –ed participles may be followed by that clauses containing the auxiliary should:

I’m shocked that the should do (or did) such a thing.

In conclusion, I believe that both (a) and (b) – ‘that he should commit’ and ‘that he should have committed’ – are correct.

About the present-tense ‘It is surprising that,’ in Alexwlth’s sentences:

4. It is surprising that he commits the crime.
5. It is surprising that he has committed the crime.
6. It is surprising that he should commit the crime.

Sentence 4) is not correct because it refers to one crime, not possible with the simple present tense. We could say: ‘It is surprising that he is committing that crime’ or ‘It is surprising that he commits/ is committing these crimes.’

Sentences 5) and 6) are correct.
*Modern English, 2nd edition, by Marcella Frank. Prentice Hall / Regents 1993
Last edited by Rachel, Moderator