It would also be doing a big service to the honest business community and country, should that interest the president as well.

Source: http://www.fsfinalword.com/?page=archive&show=1&day=2015-05-26

What is the grammatical structure in the second part of the sentence ("should that interest the president as well"). Some kind of inversion? Could you rewrite that into a more comprehensible form?

  • 1
    I think it's extremely unlikely the author of that piece is a native speaker, so I wouldn't recommend it as an example of natural written English (it reads very much like a "translation" to me). I'd replace the (snarky?) final clause with just ...if that matters to the president (or ...if the president cares about that if it's really supposed to be snarky). May 26, 2015 at 17:22
  • "if that would interest the president" or "if the president would find that of interest". In AmE, it's not "snarky", just formulaic (google.com/…).
    – TimR
    May 26, 2015 at 18:48
  • @TRomano I think it sounds pretty snarky to suggest that the president might not be interested in serving the honest business community. (I hate the word "snarky", though, but I can't think of a better one right now.)
    – Ben Kovitz
    May 27, 2015 at 14:19
  • Perhaps I misunderstood FF. I thought he was saying that the "should" form, in and of itself, has a tone the "if that matters..." form does not have.
    – TimR
    May 27, 2015 at 16:16

3 Answers 3


"Should" is being used in a conditional sentence. It means about the same thing as "happen."

Here's a possible rewording of the sentence:

It would also be doing a big service to the honest business community and country, if that happens to interest the president as well.


Yes, the final subordinate clause exhibits subject-auxiliary inversion. The reason that's possible is that the modal auxiliary "should" is in the subjunctive mood. The subjunctive is appropriate since the president's preference is not yet known, but the main clause is conditional on it.

For example, "If you had called, I would have answered." becomes "Had you called, I would have answered." This is not unlike the inversion that happens in questions, such as "Did you call?" or "Have you called yet?" where the meaning of the inversion also suggests uncertainty.

The simplest rewriting merely changes the clause to "if that should interest the president as well."

(For discussions of this, see here and here.)

The non-subjunctive version (called the indicative mood) of "should" is "shall," which is in the future tense. "That shall interest the president" would be a statement of certainty about his future preference.

  • 1
    It's not subjunctive, at least not grammatically. "Should" puts "interest" into the infinitive. Subjunctive would be "if that interest the president as well." BTW, "shall" is present-tense; "should" is the past tense of "shall", but today commonly used for a variety of meanings, including the present-tense meaning in the example sentence.
    – Ben Kovitz
    May 26, 2015 at 19:20
  • @BenKovitz I discussed the mood of the auxiliary, not the main verb. "If that interest the president" is present subjunctive, but the president's putative decision is in the future. "If he should go" does not describe something in the past or present. It's clearly an uncertain future possibility. May 27, 2015 at 14:12
  • We might have to disagree—unanimity is not possible in regard to English grammar. :) I think your analysis of "should" as subjunctive is interesting and possibly original. I'll think more about it. The topic is confusing because modal verbs don't inflect at all, and the subjunctive only has a distinct inflection on the 3rd-person singular. BTW, I understand "should that interest the president" to be in the present tense (suggesting that the president is corrupt), but that doesn't affect your analysis of "should" as subjunctive.
    – Ben Kovitz
    May 27, 2015 at 14:26
  • @BenKovitz Do you mean to say that the quote is properly interpreted to mean which is something that should interest the president?
    – Gossar
    May 30, 2015 at 15:06
  • @Gossar No, it means the same as if that interests the president. The meaning is subjunctive, but it's debatable whether "should" is grammatically in the subjunctive mood. That disagreement is just a technicality. BTW, I wrote an explanation of this sense of the word "should" (as a synonym for "if") here, using very little grammar terminology.
    – Ben Kovitz
    May 30, 2015 at 19:49

Yes, the unusual word order in "should that interest the president" is an example of conditional inversion.

But if one tries to make it more comprehensible by simply reverting the word order to the more familiar "that should interest the president," the meaning of the phrase is changed. In this new arrangement, the speaker is now declaring that service ought to interest the president. In the original phrase, the speaker is uncertain about the president's interest.

To change the word order yet keep the same meaning, one needs a way of expressing this irrealis. That's the subjunctive, which is used for hypothetical situations, things that possibly may or may not exist (like the president's interest).

Another way to phrase it (in a familiar word order but preserving semantics) could be to say, "It would also be doing a big service to the honest business community and country, if that interest the president as well."

However, in everyday spoken English the subjunctive form for many verbs is increasingly uncommon (except for be and were ). So it may be aceptable in some circles or even preferable to use "It would also be doing a big service to the honest business community and country, if that interests the president as well."

  • For fear of straying away from ELL and into ELU territory, I had simplified my answer without a full explanation of my reasoning. I've now expanded it and included references.
    – Gossar
    May 31, 2015 at 8:40
  • I just removed the –1. However, I wonder if bringing up the subjunctive mood distracts from the OP's topic, which is the grammatical structure and whether there is inversion (and whether "should that interest the president" is hard to comprehend—which so far no one has addressed).
    – Ben Kovitz
    May 31, 2015 at 14:23

You must log in to answer this question.

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