Can we always use "lest" to provide explanations reasoning an action, status, etc. ?


  1. She was worried lest the refuges be suffering cold weather.

  2. She was worried about the refuges to be lived in cold weather without a suitable shelter.

The question is where we must use this conjunction ? Can it be used in ordinary/academic written English ? (I do not see this conjunction very often)

  • 1
    Use it about as often as you use "in lieu" or the exclamation "alas". The problem I think that those who are going to read your writing or listen to your speech may not be equipped to understand "lest"... Commented Oct 23, 2015 at 21:43
  • What do you mean ? Is it archaic or very literary English? I've check Oxford; it says it is both formal and literary !
    – Cardinal
    Commented Oct 23, 2015 at 21:48
  • 1
    It's not as archaic as "shoppe" or "boga", but it's not everyday speech either. How many times a day do you hear "to and fro" or "lo and behold"? Same with "lest". It's just not common. Consider that among your interlocutors there can be people who have never read Shakespeare... Commented Oct 23, 2015 at 21:57
  • Many thanks, so it is more common in English literature, e.g, Shakespear
    – Cardinal
    Commented Oct 23, 2015 at 21:58
  • ... or in presidential speeches, or in Sunday sermons... Commented Oct 23, 2015 at 22:00

1 Answer 1


To answer your questions succinctly:

  1. Where must we use the conjunction?
    There is no requirement for its use. Other words can always be used in lieu of it.
  2. Can it be used in ordinary written English?
    Yes, though it is uncommon.
  3. Can it be used in academic written English?

The word lest is one of those words that doesn't come up much in conversation, as several commenters have already stated. The one time I hear it come up conversationally is in the so as to prevent any possibility that conjunction. Here are some examples from recent memory:

  • He replaced the hose with the hole in it lest he drown the next time he used his SCUBA gear.
  • I would refill your brake fluid lest they fail and send you off the side of the road on a sharp turn.
  • We left the city lest we be thrown in chains for a crime we didn't commit.

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