In Case Of and In the Event Of

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A reader asks if there’s a difference between these two phrases:

Is there any difference between “in case of” and “in the event of”? Some seem to think these two phrases are synonymous; others contend that “in case of” is used when you’re preparing for something, e.g. “Take an umbrella in case it rains,” while  “in the event of” when anticipating an unplanned occurrence, like “In the event of fire, use the emergency exit.” What is your take on this?

The OED defines the conjunction “in case” as “in the event that; if it should happen that.”

On the Ngram Viewer, “in case of” is far more common than “in the event of” from 1800 to 1917, but then begins to plummet. In 2000, “in case of” is only slightly ahead of “in the event of” in the English database.

A Google search also indicates that “in case of” is more common:

in case of (290,000,000 results) 
in the event of (95,400,000 results) 

As for “anticipating an unplanned occurrence,” like a fire, a Google search indicates that the phrases occur about equally:

in the event of emergency: 28,400,000 results 
in case of emergency: 29,600,000 results 

in case of fire: 22,700,000 results 
in the event of fire: 19,600,000 results

It seems clear that the two phrases are synonymous.

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4 thoughts on “In Case Of and In the Event Of”

  1. I have to disagree that “in case of” and “in the event of” are synonymous. I bring my umbrella “in case of” rain so that I don’t get wet if it rains. If I were to bring my umbrella “in the event of” rain, then I wouldn’t have it until It had started raining and I’d already be wet.

  2. Sorry, but I beg to disagree: the two expressions are synonymous in the examples cited and are often synonymous … but not always.
    Here are my own notes on the subject:
    The expressions “in case of” and “in the event of” can be synonymous (e.g. “In case/the event of fire, follow the instructions below.”) However, this is not always the case. Where, as in the previous sentence, “case” means “situation”, the word “event” may not be substituted.
    Conversely, where “event” means “occurrence”, it is advisable not to use the word “case”, in order to avoid confusion with the other meaning of “in case”, which is “lest” or “for fear that”.
    Coming back to your example to illustrate this last point: in the expression “Take an umbrella in case it rains”, we cannot put “event” in place of “case”.

  3. If you watched our local, Boston-area TV weather broadcasts, sooner or later you would hear, “Take an umbrella in case there is a rain event.”
    In the event that it doesn’t rain, you can put your umbrella back in its case.

  4. > A Google search also indicates that “in case of” is more common:
    > in case of (290,000,000 results)
    > in the event of (95,400,000 results)
    Not really. Google exaggerates, if not lies unashamedly.
    I thought everybody had long known the trick:
    1. Set Google search to 100 results per page.
    2. Search for “in case of” in the quotation marks.
    3. Go to the last page (Page 4).
    At the top:
    “in case of” (Page 4 of about 359 results (0,47 seconds)
    The same procedure with “in the event of”: Page 5 of about 413 results (0,50 seconds)

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