in case: subjunctive/indicative?

SevenDays

Senior Member
Spanish
Hello all,

Please, consider the following sentences:

1. He might not win the war, but be prepared in case he does.
(His winning the war is highly likely.)
2. He might not win the war, but be prepared in case he were to do so.
(His winning the war is uncertain; he might or he might not.)
3. He might not win the war, but be prepared in case he was to do so.
(His winning the war is neither highly likely nor uncertain; it falls in between.)

I think all three sentences grammatically are correct, and that "does" in (1) is in the indicative mood, "were" in (2) the subjinctive mood, and "was" in (3) the past indicative.
But if I'm wrong, please tell me why!
Also, to a native speaker, does the use of “in case” sound awkward? (How would you fix it?)
Thanks in advance!
 
  • mrr5052

    Senior Member
    American English
    I do not know alot about the rules of english but I am a native speaker. Number 1 sounds the best as it is the most common way to express that idea. Number 2 is correct but it is seems uneccesary to say. Because the subject is doing something (trying to win), here might be a better way to say it...

    He might not win the war, but be prepared in the event that he does.
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    Welcome to the forum, SevenDays.

    I would never follow "in case" by a subjunctive, so to me only 1 is correct and expresses moderate uncertainty.

    To express more uncertainty, you could say:

    2'. He might not win the war, but be prepared in case he should (win the war).

    To indicate less uncertainty, you might say:

    1'. He might not win the war, but be prepared because he might.

    I wouldn't say this means his winning is "highly likely" but at about a 50% probability.
     

    Cagey

    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    I agree with Forero's suggested alternatives and his analysis of their significance.

    We seem to have a difference in terminology, however. There are some people who do not use subjunctive to describe any English verb forms. I do use the term, however, and would describe should in 2' as a subjunctive.
     
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    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Like Forero, I don't think I'd use a subjunctive after "in case".

    I'll take/I'm taking an umbrella in case it rains.:tick:
    I'll take/I'm taking an umbrella in case it should rain.:tick:
    I'll take/I'm taking an umbrella in case it might rain. :tick:

    I took an umbrella in case it rained. :tick:
    I took an umbrella in case it should rain.:tick:
    I took an umbrella in case it might rain. :tick:

    In the should/might versions, the likelihood of rain is probably less than in the version without modal verbs.

    Also like Forero, I prefer your sentence (1) to the other two sentences.

    Sentence (1) relates to a present-day possibility: the idea is that at some future date "he" might (or might not) win the war, and the addressee has to be prepared against the eventuality that "he" might do so.

    You could, conceivably, use a past tense as in (3). But only if you use "might" as a possibility in the past; and even then, the straightforward past would be better than "was to":

    She felt that he might not win the war, but she was prepared in case he was to do so:confused:
    She felt that he might not win the war, but she was prepared in case he did so:tick:*

    *or "should do so"/"might do so".

    PS: yes, as Cagey says, there are terminological differences here. I don't use "subjunctive" to refer to the use of modals like "should"; I use it to refer to verb forms like "he be"/"he were". But I recognise that some grammarians describe some uses of modal auxiliaries as "subjunctive"...
     
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    sdgraham

    Senior Member
    USA English
    2. He might not win the war, but be prepared in case he were to do so.
    (His winning the war is uncertain; he might or he might not.)
    This sentence is incorrect because it requires the conditional as Loob, Forero, etc. suggested.

    Use of the subjunctive confounds many native English speakers. You cannot use "were" unless stating something contrary to fact, e.g. "If I were young, I would run a mile a day." (I'm an old codger and definitely not young)

    In sentence No. 2, however, your own comment shows that it is not contrary to fact, only that the result is unknown.
     

    Cagey

    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    She felt that he might not win the war, but she was prepared in case he was to do so:confused:
    You might hear similar constructions in certain dialects of AmE, but they are considered non-standard.

    The difference between this and "but he did" is that "be + to infinitive" is used to refer to the future. It may be used to talk about the future from the point of view of the past. After it was all over, we might say, "Despite her worries, he was to win the war." However, in a conditional sentence with an uncertain outcome like this one, AmE prefers "were to win".

    In this sentence were simply indicates that the outcome is uncertain. It does not always mark a statement as contrary to fact.

    Ref.: Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary: be (Future).
     
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    sevengem

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    So whether we use subjunctive or indicative with "in case" depends on the situation. Is the same with "for fear" and "lest"? I still find it hard to judge which mood is to use.He took down the phone number for fear that he _____it.Is "forgot" or "(should) forget" suitable here? Why? Thanks in advance.
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    So whether we use subjunctive or indicative with "in case" depends on the situation. Is the same with "for fear" and "lest"? I still find it hard to judge which mood is to use.He took down the phone number for fear that he _____it.Is "forgot" or "(should) forget" suitable here? Why? Thanks in advance.
    I don't think any of these works with "past" subjunctive (he were, etc.) in current English.

    "In case" works with indicative (including modals), "in case he forgot"/"in case he has forgotten"/"in case he forgets"/"in case he should/might forget".

    "Lest" would normally take present subjuctive "lest he forget", but adding "should" does not hurt ("lest he should forget"). It does not seem to work with past tense or present perfect.

    "For fear he forgets" and "for fear he forget" both sound wrong to my ear. "For fear he might/should forget" sounds fine:

    He takes down the phone numbers for fear he might/should forget them.
    He took down the phone number for fear he might/should forget it.

     

    Dandix

    Member
    Italian
    While reading the posts above, I instinctively thought: "He might not win the war, but be prepared in case he would"
    Then I saw that none of you mentioned would, but suggested might or should instead.
    Can you please tell me if would is incorrect here?
    Thanks.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    :) Thank you Thomas. But could you please explain why? Maybe because you wouldn't use "in case + will"?
    With lest and in case we aren't using the conditional which can be I should, you would, he would, we should, you would, they would, but a modal should which doesn't change i.e. it's I should, you should, he should, we should, you should, they should. The two are sometimes confused.
     

    Dandix

    Member
    Italian
    With lest and in case we aren't using the conditional which can be I should, you would, he would, we should, you would, they would, but a modal should which doesn't change i.e. it's I should, you should, he should, we should, you should, they should. The two are sometimes confused.
    Thank you again, now it is clear :)
     

    Embonpoint

    Senior Member
    English--American
    Subjunctive is falling out of use. It's still used sometimes, particularly in phrases such as "Long live the Queen!" or "If I were a rich man."

    Of the sentences you wrote, number one is what I would say. And "in case" works just fine. Your second sentence is fully correct but sounds old-fashioned. The third one to me is not preferable because it uses a form of the subjunctive considered erroneous by strict grammarians.

    To explain further on no. 3, use of the past tense to convey subjunctive uncertainty is widely used. For example, most people in the U.S. would say, "If I was rich..." instead of "If I were rich...." It is widely accepted today. However, in your sentence, if you are aiming to be informal you are much better off with no. 1 which has the advantage of being simple, clear and correct all at once.
     

    Embonpoint

    Senior Member
    English--American
    Just to add, the use of "should" to replace subjunctive is more common in British English. The sentence "He might not win the war, but be prepared in case he should" sounds British to me. It is absolutely correct, however, I would change it if I were editing a text for American readers.
     

    Embonpoint

    Senior Member
    English--American
    Hmmm... an actual British person also voting for sentence number one. Paul, does "be prepared in case he should (do so)" also sound okay to you?
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    I think would is possible after in case, referring to a possible future in which would makes sense:

    He would probably not do anything under those circumstances, but have preventions in place in case he would.

    The difference is that something done "in case he does win" is providing for a possible future in which he has won, but "in case he would do something" is providing for the situation in which he might intend to do something. (Sometimes would = might intend to, approximately.)
     
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