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I have been wondering about these 3 expressions of "in case of".

In case of emergency

In case of an emergency

In the case of an emergency

I figured that the first one simply means to say "in any case of emergency" while the second can´t stand on its own. Something should follow, right? Though I don´t know why. Is it because it is more closely defined by the indefinite article? The third one seems to mean "in regard to" and something specific must follow? Is any of this correct?

  • "In case of emergency" is treating "emergency" as uncountable. The other two do not. The second kind of mixes countable and uncountable, but it's hard to say it's "wrong", it just doesn't feel right, when you say it repeatedly. But the greater context is important. – Hot Licks Feb 28 '18 at 13:41
  • Well, how about this: In case of an emergency break the glass. – Marcin Nowak Feb 28 '18 at 14:07
  • In the case of Hardy and Blank, the mother was the culprit. This is the only way I can imagine the other two to work. – Marcin Nowak Feb 28 '18 at 14:08
  • 'In the event of an emergency' is more colloquial, I would say. – user63615 Feb 28 '18 at 14:48
  • Marcin, those are all abbreviations, well outside normal rules of language. "In (case of) emergency, break glass" is a well-recognised idiom here in the UK… "… of an emergency" is not. Of the original examples, the second two would always be understood but are unnatural; obviously contrived. None of the three could "stand on it's own…"; never. – Robbie Goodwin Mar 1 '18 at 23:21
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In case of emergency, use "in case of emergency" because it shortens the time to read it. Like said in the comment, it's an idiom, that does not necessary follow the grammar rules.

Sometimes, it helps, if you check such phrases in official documents. The good enough way to do this, is to limit the search to .gov, so site:gov "in case of emergency" (in quotes). I've got 446,000 results.

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