1. Should anyone phone, tell him I'm busy.
  2. If anyone phones, tell him I'm busy.

I am wondering what is the difference between those?

What is more, I am wondering as to the inversion in the first sentence has happened. Would you please show me a site so that I could study more about such a specific inversion?

  • The second sentence should be 'if anyone phones'.
    – Alan Third
    Commented Dec 31, 2014 at 0:15

2 Answers 2


If anyone calls, tell him I am busy.

If anyone should call, tell him I am busy.

Now what is the difference between this two?

The first one is a normal conditional sentence, while the second one suggests that the event of calling is unlikely.

Notes from Practical English Usage by Michael Swan -

enter image description here

enter image description here

Should anyone call, tell him I am busy.

We can re-write this sentence as the following -

If anyone should call, tell him I am busy.

Note in the previous case Should anyone call...., we don't use calls.

Please visit this link for more information and examples of should used at the beginning of the sentence with if dropped, as you quoted in your question.

N.B Pam Peters in Cambridge Guide to English Usage suggests that the usage of should in conditional sentence is becoming less often. Conditional uses of should with if included in sentence now sound rather lofty, but the inverted should at the beginning of the sentence with no if included in that clause is still a neat way of prefacing a condition.


The modal verb should certainly serves as if there. That said, both mean the same.

WordWeb Online Dictionary has an entry for that

should - Expresses a condition

[My suggestion is to use 'call' than 'phone' in those examples].

I'm afraid whether we call those sentences as typical example of inversion. Because that's not the structure that defines a classic inversion. You asked for a link, and here it is: http://www.learn-english-today.com/lessons/lesson_contents/verbs/inversion.html

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .