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Is the following use of in case natural?

We stored the apples in the fridge in case they should go rotten.

She didn’t want me to go with her to the party in case I cramped her style.

  • They both look right; in case is pretty versatile, and if you saw it in a novel, remember that people talk differently than they write, so the author could be trying to bad as accurate as possible. – Sean May 21 '18 at 1:18
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Is the following use of in case natural?

We stored the apples in the fridge in case they should go rotten.

Oh boy. This is a usage I've heard fellow native speakers use, but always ones with poorer educations, and it always strikes me as sounding wrong – it is technically incorrect in a way which makes me think the speaker doesn't understand what "in case" means.

"In case" means "so that we're prepared if it should happen" or "in the event", not "to prevent" or "so that it won't happen". You probably wouldn't store the apples in the fridge so that, should the apples go rotten, they'll already be in the fridge, because you think it's a good thing for some reason that rotten apples be stored on the fridge. Rather, you'd store the apples in the fridge to prevent them going rotten.

(Or, I don't know, maybe you do want the apples in the fridge in case they go rotten, so they won't stink up the whole house when they do.)

She didn’t want me to go with her to the party in case I cramped her style.

This sounds somewhat more natural to me, and any native speaker will understand what it means perfectly, but, again, it sounds slightly off to me, because it's using "in case" to mean something other than "in the event". Here, it's being used to mean, "because it might be that", and it's being used, as above, to describe preventing a case, not anticipating it.

Contrast:

She did want me to go with her to the party in case she didn't know anyone there.

Here, her desire for the speaker to go to the party is in anticipation of the situation that might arise at the party – the "case" – where it would be a good thing if she had someone she knew.

So in an important sense, the answer to your question is "yes, these are natural uses of 'in case'". But in another sense, the answer is "no, it sounds incorrect, and I don't recommend it."

I guess I would sum up by saying, "Don't do this in formal speech; save this for casual speech."

  • +1 for an informative and balanced answer. – Tᴚoɯɐuo May 21 '18 at 9:54
  • And for an apple-based example of the correct use: We bought some more apples in case the ones in the fridge had gone off. – James Random May 21 '18 at 10:16
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    Heh. This use of "in case" hardly signals a lack of education, just a lack of pretention. Reminds me why I stopped checking in here so often. – Luke Sawczak May 21 '18 at 23:14
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Yes, both of these are natural. Here's a third example to supplement your two:

I wear my helmet when biking in case I fall.

These all work because "in case" means "in order to avoid or anticipate a situation".

This is also why we say "just in case" on its own to explain why we take a preventative measure. You can even drop whatever outcome you don't want to happen.

Should I lock the door just in case?

Note that in your first example, drop "should". In this sentence it marks the subjunctive and so is technically acceptable, but sounds pretentious. Just use the indicative: in case they went rotten.

Also, some sentences will be more ambiguous than others. When you stored the apples in the fridge in case they went rotten, was it to prevent them from getting rotten, or because you thought they might have gotten rotten already and wanted to put them in the fridge to avoid a further danger that has been left implicit (like in the door example)? In the past tense it can be hard to tell.

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The complement of in case is a statement that might be true or an an event that might occur (not an eventuality), and the main clause refers to something that should be done in light of that possible event or in light of the possibility that the statement is true.

Take your umbrella in case it rains.

It might rain, so take your umbrella.

The main clause properly has positive polarity. These clauses with negative polarity strike my ear as marginal or ungrammatical.

Don't forget your umbrella in case it rains. ungrammatical to my ear

Don't walk there barefoot in case there's broken glass. marginal

I'm not quite sure why the one sounds ungrammatical to me and the other sounds only marginal. I think it has something to do with the main clause having, by implication, a positive semantic polarity, "wear shoes", by virtue of the negated qualifier barefoot.

Put the milk in the fridge in case it goes sour. ungrammatical

Put the medicine in the fridge in case it needs to be kept cold.grammatical

it goes sour is an eventuality, not an event, when the meaning is not "it is capable of going sour" but "it should turn sour on us".

it needs to be kept cold might be true.

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