What’s the difference between “if” and “in case”

difference if in caseIt is important not to confuse “if” and “in case”. They can be used in similar sentences, but they have different meanings. Consider the following examples:

  • I will take a coat if it rains.
  • I will take a coat in case it rains.

Here, “if” is used to present a conditional situation (dependent it raining), while “in case” is a precaution (done to prepare for the rain).

“In case” is usually used to show that an action is being taken, or preparations have been made, as a precaution – so the action or event is completed based on a possibility.

  • I have bought extra porridge in case we need more.
  • He was expecting a delivery, so he stayed at home in case it arrived.

“If”, as a conditional, shows an action or event that is dependent on something else happening. The action will not happen unless the if clause happens.

  • I will go to the play if I have some spare time.
  • She will receive a reward if she passes her exam.

 

Using “if” and “in case”

For sentences where it seems that both can apply, “if” and “in case” can therefore refer to completing actions at different times – “in case” actions are done in advance, while “if” actions only occur on a condition. Consider these examples:

  • Call me if you need any help.
  • Call me in case you need any help.

The first sentence tells you to call only when you need help, the second sentence tells you to call before you need help (and in this case may be to check whether or not you need help).

  • We’ll proofread the report in case there are mistakes.
  • We’ll proofread the report if there are mistakes.

The first sentence here says it will be done anyway, to find mistakes, but the “if” sentence tells us there will be no proofreading unless a mistake is found first.

Sometimes the difference can be subtle, such as when a precaution is already in place but will only be relevant if a condition occurs.

  • She can give you advice, in case you need help.
  • She can give you advice, if you need help.

The first sentence emphasises that she is prepared to give advice, as a precaution, while the second sentence shows she will give advice if it is needed. The two sentences are very similar, but have grammatically different meanings.

 

If vs In Case – Exercise

Choose “if” or “in case” to complete the following sentences:

  1. It looks like it won’t rain, but I have an umbrella _____ it does.
  2. It’s okay, we can get the bus ______ we miss the train.
  3. We’re running late – let’s get a taxi ______ we miss the train.
  4. He didn’t want to come to the pub ______ his mother phones.
  5. I’ve given them directions ______ they can’t find the party.
  6. You can change the colour ______ you don’t like how it looks.
  7. It’s best to insure your car ______ you have an accident.
  8. You must report to the police ______ you have an accident.
  9. She knocked on the door loudly ______ they couldn’t hear her.
  10. I will give extra homework ______ you ask me for it.
  11. I will give the class extra homework ______ I am not here next week.

Exercise Answers

  1. It looks like it won’t rain, but I have an umbrella in case it does.
  2. It’s okay, we can get the bus if we miss the train.
  3. We’re running late – let’s get a taxi in case we miss the train.
  4. He didn’t want to come to the pub in case his mother phones.
  5. I’ve given them directions in case they can’t find the party.
  6. You can change the colour if you don’t like how it looks.
  7. It’s best to insure your car in case you have an accident.
  8. You must report to the police if you have an accident.
  9. She knocked on the door loudly in case they couldn’t hear her.
  10. I will give extra homework if you ask me for it.
  11. I will give the class extra homework in case I am not here next week.

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