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Take an umbrella lest it should rain.

I know the above sentence is correct, but consider:

He took an umbrella lest it should rain.

Is this sentence grammatically correct? Can we use "should" after "lest" both in the present tense and past tense?

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  • "Lest" is being usd wrongly here. "Lest X happens" means "in order that X not happen", or "in order to prevent X happening". You can't prevent it raining. Take an umbrella lest you get wet. In any case, "lest" is not normally followed by a past tense even if the main clause is in the imperfect (simple past) tense. He took an umbrella lest he get wet. (Or "lest he should get wet" if you want to use "should" instead of the subjunctive.) en.wiktionary.org/wiki/lest#Usage_notes
    – Rosie F
    Aug 1 at 15:26
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should in these sentences is a backshifted of shall, which relates to something happening in the future- relative to the something mentioned in the first clause.

I am taking an umbrella lest it should rain.

When you use it after a present tense clause, you are clearly talking about a possible future event.

He took an umbrella lest it should rain.

When you use it after a past tense sentence, you are talking about a possible future event, relative to the time something happened in that first sentence. He decided to take an umbrella because he thought, at the time, that it might rain in the future.


Note that "Take an umbrella...." is not present tense, but an imperative. You can spot imperatives because they don't have a subject: the subject is the person that you are talking to.

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