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26 March 2012

Common mistakes #7: “in case”

Moscow News is a much-improved newspaper since my friend Tim Wall took over a couple of years back and started subjecting his backers to some polite but proper scrutiny. He will understand, therefore, if I subject his prose to some polite but proper scrutiny.
     Friday’s edition of his paper carries an interesting article by Yulia Ponomareva about the possibilities for unity amongst the anti-government parties in Russia. In it she wrote:
“Just Russia member Oksana Dmitriyeva, who Mironov was going to appoint Prime Minister in case he had won the presidential election, admitted that ….”
     The use of the phrase “in case” in this context is a direct translation of the Russian в случае, and though commonly used by Russians in this way is not correct in English. What Ms Ponomareva should have written was: “in the event that” (Mironov had won the election). As the sentence stands, it means that, as a precaution against the possibility that Mironov won the election, he was going to appoint Ms D. prime minister—which of course is not what Ms Ponomareva intended to say, nor what Mr Mironov was thinking.
     “In case” is not used in the subjunctive mood. It is quite correct to say, “I have brought my umbrella in case it rains”, or “as a precaution in case of rain”. But to say, “My umbrella would have got wet in case of rain”, is not correct. That sentence should be: “My umbrella would have got wet in the event of rain”, or, better still because it is simpler, “if it had rained.”
      In case Mr Wall reads this blog, he might like to mention this point to Ms Ponomareva, in case she is tempted to make the same mistake again. In the event that (not “in case”) she had read this post before writing her otherwise informative article, she would probably have avoided this error.


  1. Thanks for article, Ian. It is really help me understand English better.

  2. So we should translate "in case" to Russian "на случай", aren't we? "Я взял зонт на случай дождя".

    1. I think that is right. But I do not pretend to be an expert in Russian. Best to consult my friend Michele Berdy whose excellent book, The Russian Word's Worth (Glas publishers, Moscow 2010) you are sure to find extremely useful. I intend mentioning it in a future post.

  3. Ugh! seems that there're twice more words in current English than in Russian. And if we add dialects?