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en (el) caso de (que)

The expression en (el) caso de (que) often causes problems when it comes to translating it into English. This is partly due to the confusion between 'in case of+noun' and 'in case+verb' in English. As discussed in Cambridge Dictionary, "We use 'in case of + noun' to mean ‘if and when something happens,’" while, "We use 'in case' to talk about things we should do in order to be prepared for possible future situations."1 

Additionally, some translations are generally used in formal register in English, while en el caso de is used in both formal and colloquial register.

 

First off, we must mention the use of the expression that refers to a specific example, rather than a condition or hypothetical case. Here the article is obligatory since it refers to a specific case.

-El 92% de los encuestados (95% en el caso de España) asegura tener un 'smartphone' y usarlo de manera habitual — Ninety-two percent of those surveyed (95% in Spain's case) claim to have a smartphone which they use regularly

-El mercado está en auge. En el caso del vino tinto, ahora España es el segundo país que más exporta — The market is on the up. In the case of red wines, Spain is now the second largest exporter

 

When used in a conditional sense, en (el) caso de can be followed by a noun, a verb in infinitive or que+subordinate clause. It comes very close in meaning to si, but it tends to refer to a more hypothetical case rather than a normal condition.2

"en (el) caso de: locución que introduce la condición necesaria para que se verifique lo expresado en la oración principal. Va seguida de un nombre de acción, un infinitivo o una subordinada precedida de 'que'".3

 

1) With a noun, both 'in the event of' and 'in case of' are possible translations. The article (el) is generally omitted when referring to a future hypothetical event. However, if referring to what generally happens in a certain case, rather than what would happen in a hypothetical case, countable nouns may be preceded by the indefinite article (un/una) and the definite article (el) is added before caso.

-En caso de emergencia/incendio, salgan por la puerta trasera — In case of emergency/fire / In the event of an emergency/fire, go out through the back door 

→En el caso de una emergencia/ un incendio, se sale por la puerta trasera — If there's an/in cases of emergency, people leave through the back door

-En caso de avería, llame al servicio técnico — In case of breakdown, call technical support

En el caso de una avería, se suele llamar al servicio técnico — If there's breakdown, technical support is usually called out

 

-Abrir sólo en caso de extrema necesidad — Open only if absolutely necessary/ in extreme cases

→Se abre sólo en el caso de extrema necesidad —  It is opened only when absolutely necessary/ in extreme cases

2) If the subject is the same for both verbs, the infinitive can be used instead of a noun. Here, the article 'el' is usually optional. Remember that in English 'in case of' can only be used for nouns in this conditional sense; with verbs we must translate as 'in the event that' or  'should/if+verb'.2

-En (el) caso de que necesiten más toallas, no duden en avisarnos 

En (el) caso de necesitar más toallas, no duden en avisarnos — In the event that you (should) need more towels / Should you need more towels, don't hesitate to let us know

 

-En caso de que vaya (yo), te aviso

→En caso de ir, te aviso — If I go, I'll let you know

 

3) Just like normal conditionals, by using the past subjunctive  instead of the present, the speaker is posing the scenario as more hypothetical and less likely. Sometimes the expression includes an adjective such as hipotético or improbable to emphasize that the speaker deems it to be unlikely.3

-En (el) caso de que necesitaran más toallas, no duden en avisarnos — If you were to/should you need more towels, don't hesitate to let us know

-En (el) caso de que llegaran a la final, él no podría jugar  — If they were to make it to the final, he wouldn't be able to play

-En el improbable caso de que no pudiera asistir, te avisaría con tiempo — In the unlikely event that I can't attend, I'll let you know in advance

 

4) En el caso de que+verbo mustn't be confused with 'in case +verb', which is used for contingency rather than a condition. 'In case+verb' is best translated as por si (acaso)+presente indicativo/pasado subjuntivo. As mentioned above, 'in case of+noun' is not the same as 'in case+verb'.3-4

-Llevaremos toallas por si (acaso) llueve/lloviera — We'll take towels (just) in case it rains [Llevaremos toallas por si acaso]

→Llevaremos toallas en (el) caso de que llueva/lloviera — We'll take towels in the event that it rains [Si llueve, llevaremos toallas]

→Habrá que llevar toallas en caso de lluvia torrencial — Towels will be required in case of heavy rain

 

5) Sometimes 'en' is omitted when followed by que+subordinate clause, especially in spoken Spanish.

(En) caso de que venga, llámame — Should he come/if he comes/if he should come, call me

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-en el caso de que - en inglés-