'if' or 'in case'
There are 2 main mistakes that English learners make when they think about 'if' and 'in case':
Many English learners think that 'in case' is a more sophisticated version of 'if'. Unfortunately, this is not true, and there is a big difference in meaning between 'if' and 'in case'.
Many Engish learners think that 'in case' and 'in case of' mean the same thing. This is also not true.
'in case of' + noun
'In case of' is not the same as 'in case'. In case of is used mainly in official notices such as signs or instructions. 'In case of + noun' means the same as 'if there is..'
"In case of fire, please use the emergency exit"
"In case of emergency press this button"
I would say that 'in case of + noun' is not very important for business situations, and it is possible to avoid it even in formal writing.
'In case' is used when we talk about something that we do as a precaution. Let's take a look at some examples of precautions. Imagine that you are going on holiday:
"I will put a coat in my suitace in case it is cold when we get there"
(I do not know if it will be cold there or not, but I will put a coat in my suitcase anyway as a precaution)
Let's also take a look at some business examples:
"We have a $10 000 emergency fund in case we go over budget"
(We do not know if we will go over budget, but we have a $10 000 emergency fund as a precaution)
"We have kept 1 week free on the project schedule in case we have any problems"
(We do not know if we will have any problems, but we have 1 spare week as a precaution)
'if' or 'in case'
Let's now compare some sentences about precautions with some sentences with 'if':
In case (Precaution)
"We will prepare a contingency plan in case Plan A fails"
(We do not know if Plan A will fail or not, but we will prepare a contingency plan as a precaution)
"We will buy more drink in case more people come to the staff party"
(We do not know if more people will come to the staff party, but we will buy more drink anyway as a precaution)
"We will prepare a contingency plan if Plan A fails"
(Only if Plan A fails first, then after that we will prepare a contingency plan. If Plan A does not fail, we will not prepare a contingency plan)
"We will buy more drink if more people come to the staff party"
(Only if more people come to the party, then after that we will buy more drinks for them. If more people do not come to the party, then we will not buy more drinks)
What it sounds like if you use the wrong one
The most common mistake that English learners make is that they sometimes use 'in case' when they should use 'if'. This can lead to some very strange sentences, as in the one below:
XX "In case you have any problems, please do not hesitate to contact me" XX
(This means, we do not know if you will have any problems or not, but please do not hesitate to contact me anyway as a precaution)
As you can see, this is quite a strange sentence. The correct version is:
"If you have any problems, please do not hesitate to contact me"
It can also sound strange if you use 'if' when you should use 'in case':
XX "We will buy some security software if someone tries to hack into the system"XX
(This means: We will buy security software only if someone tries to hack into the system. In other words, it means that you will wait for someone to try to hack into the system before you buy security software)
The correct version should be:
"We will buy some security software in case someone tries to hack into the system"
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