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I'd like to know whether the following sentence is okay in the present perfect:

Some people buy lots of medical supplies in case an epidemic has broken out.

There are sentences where "in case" occurs with the present perfect. If the above sentence doesn't work, what distinguishes it from well-formed instances?

I'd appreciate your help.

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I'd consider that an elliptical statement with a projection into the future being what is missing:

Some people buy medical supplies [so that they will have them on hand if] an epidemic has broken out.

in case is future-looking. The projected future is the reference time for the present perfect.

Your sentence is indeed something that could come out of the mouth of many a speaker of AmE.

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  • What's the difference between the sentence in the OP and "Some people buy lots of medical supplies in case an epidemic breaks out"? – Apollyon Dec 11 '18 at 13:26
  • @Apollyon: The difference is a matter of aspect regarding the epidemic. Bring a patch in case you get a flat tire. Bring a patch in case you've gotten a flat tire. get sees the flat as it happens; have gotten sees the flat as having happened. The present perfect version projects the virtual viewpoint post-flat. I find the present perfect version a little awkward because of the semantic ellipsis; I might call it marginal but not ungrammatical. There is an implicit "if you should find that you have gotten a flat tire". or if it should come to pass. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Dec 11 '18 at 14:20
  • Could the OP example be used in a scenario where there is some likelihood that an epidemic has started, but people are not sure if an epidemic has indeed broken out, and they buy medical supplies just in case? – Apollyon Dec 11 '18 at 14:26
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    If you mean Bring medical supplies in case [it's true that] an epidemic has broken out, yes, in case doesn't prevent that meaning, and in conversation most speakers who wish to express that meaning would heavily emphasize has: Bring medical supplies in case an epidemic HAS broken out. That is, in case the reports we've been hearing are indeed true, or something like that. There is some doubt, and you want to be prepared in case the doubt resolves to "true". – Tᴚoɯɐuo Dec 11 '18 at 15:05
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    It is best to say what you want to say, rather than to have us continually comment on what individual utterances might mean in a vacuum. There are contexts where buy would be fine, and contexts where are buying would be appropriate. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Dec 15 '18 at 14:29
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It's not an invalid sentence grammatically, it just probably doesn't mean what you want it to mean.

Your sentence says that people buy medical supplies in case an epidemic has broken out - that is, is already underway (and eg. they don't know about it). If you used present simple here:

Some people buy lots of medical supplies in case an epidemic breaks out.

the sentence would mean something different - that they buy medical supplies anticipating an epidemic sometime in the future. Which sounds more likely to me.

Compare:

I've drafted an alternative proposal in case they veto ours (they might veto it later, eg. when you present it)

I've drafted an alternative proposal in case they have vetoed ours (the decision is already made, you just don't know it)

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  • I took it that the OP meant the first case. – Colin Fine Dec 11 '18 at 12:06
  • @ColinFine then it's a perfectly correct sentence. – Maciej Stachowski Dec 11 '18 at 12:06
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    Could the OP example be used in a scenario where the people are not sure if an epidemic has broken out, and they buy medical supplies just in case? – Apollyon Dec 11 '18 at 14:20
  • @Apollyon Yes, that would be an appropriate meaning. For example, if someone is at the store considering whether there is already an ongoing epidemic. – Tashus Dec 11 '18 at 18:27
  • Someone said I should use the present progressive "are buying" in "Some people are buying lots of medical supplies in case an epidemic has broken out" in order to express that meaning. Is that necessary? – Apollyon Dec 12 '18 at 14:10

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