Column: “Should like” or “would like”

Question: “I enjoy your column very much in Current in Carmel. Is it ungrammatical to use the word ‘would’ in the phrase, ‘I would like to…?’ Everyone says that but I have been told that such is redundant; rather, one should use ‘should’ instead of ‘would’ in the phrase if you include ‘like.'” – (Clyde Crockett, Carmel)

Answer: That’s an interesting question, Clyde. It’s got a very Tolkien-esque sound to it, does it not?

In the wake of the Brian Williams scandal, I should perhaps come clean right off the bat and say the Tolkien association comes from searching “I should like” and finding nothing but “Fellowship of the Ring” quotes for pages. You’ll recognize Bilbo Baggins’ famous farewell speech: “I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.”

Anyway, I digress.

Tolkien was an Oxford man through and through, so it seems only right I look to the Oxford English Dictionary for some clarification on this one. Unfortunately, it’s of two minds.

Acknowledging confusion of the very sort you’re asking about, Oxford says this: “The traditional rule is that ‘should’ is used with first person pronouns (I and we) and ‘would’ is used with second and third persons (you, he, she, it, they).

That would all be nice and tidy, except even Oxford admits no one adheres to that anymore.

The Oxford Learner’s Dictionary has this to say on the matter: “In modern English, the traditional difference between ‘should’ and ‘would’ in reported sentences, conditions, requests, etc. has disappeared and ‘should’ is not used very much at all.”

My feeling is the same as yours – everyone says “I would like…” these days. Save your “should likes” for Hobbit holes and heated arguments about which Beatles album is the best. (It’s the White Album – and don’t even bother arguing that it’s “Sgt. Pepper’s.” I won’t hear of it.)