can 'in case of + noun' be translated as si + genitive, e.g. 'si ignis' (in case of fire)? or is a verbal clause (i.e. si forte + subjunctive) more idiomatic? thanks!

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    How about caso ignis or caso igne?
    – Ben Kovitz
    Apr 29, 2022 at 19:25
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    @BenKovitz Isn't casus fourth rather than second declension? That's certainly a word worth exploring in this context.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Apr 29, 2022 at 20:47
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    @BenKovitz No, these are something about a torch falling somewhere :-) the 4th declension cāsus refers to an unforeseen event, a misfortune that "befalls", and there's no way to use it in provisions; poetically it's used for 'an allowing event, opportunity' on a couple of occasions. Apr 29, 2022 at 21:02
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    Oops, cāsū! But probably still wrong, for the reasons @Unbrutal_Russian gave.
    – Ben Kovitz
    Apr 30, 2022 at 3:11
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    @Figulus accidēns and contingēns are philosophical terms translating Greek (see L&S for details), 'the non-substantial, extraneous circumstance' and 'the contingent, present or absent by chance'. They have no use in the ordinary language. Even in technical use the PHI corpus only has 1 suitable occurrence ('accidental, extrajudicial servitude'). Though there are a few more in folks like Boetius. contingēns also means 'a composite body'. —And it's not igne (see my answer). May 7, 2022 at 5:58

1 Answer 1


No, a -clause cannot be nominal, it needs a predicate; in absence of one it reads just like 'if a fire' in English, i.e. as a elliptic list item with the same verb as before understood. The only possible verbless use is as in sī quisquam, ille 'if anyone then surely him'.

'in case of X' has two major uses:

  • as a provision for a likely event, you basically want to translate 'if there's fire', which is easy: sī incendium fuerit; likewise, 'in case a tree is felled by lightning = if a tree falls after being hit by lightning (call your local spirit guide for further instructions)' sī arbōs fulgure icta ceciderit. The perfect tense expresses the sense of definiteness & punctuality which in English distinguishes 'in case of' from a simple 'if'; the latter expressed in Latin as sī incendium erit, sī arbōs cadat.

    • notice that ignis refers to the light-emitting effect of combustion, and not to an area or property that's on fire.

    A couple of ready-translated examples from Livy's Loeb, indicating ongoing states (the narration is present but the events are in the past):

    Senātus magistrātibus in forō praestō est, sī quid cōnsulere velint [...] aliī offerunt sē, sī quō ūsus operae sit. ('The senate awaited the magistrates in the Forum, in case they wished its advice about anything [...] others volunteered, in case of any need of their services.'

  • as a casual precaution for an unlikely event ('you never know'), that's when you need forte 'perchance': sī forte incendium erit, aliā perveniēmus 'in case there's a fire (in our way), we'll get there by another route'; Lūcium sī forte vidēbis salvēre jubētō 'in case you happen to see Bob, pass him my greetings'.

When listing alternatives, these are introduced with sīve~seu 'else if': sī A, B; sīve C, D...

With negation, becomes 'if not' and sīve becomes nīve~neu 'and if not' (often spelled NEI and NEIVE). This one smacks of legalese and archaic language, to be used on occasion:

id nī fit, mēcum pignus sī quis volt datō ('if this isn't the case, let anyone who wants bet against me', Plautus)

  • very clear, thanks!
    – elle
    Apr 30, 2022 at 18:22
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    @Kingshorsey This seems in line with the medieval/renaissance use of the impf. as a reservation and politeness marker, basically a downstep in the degree of certainty compared with the present one. It may be more common when subordinated to another subjunctive, as if to better distinguish the two levels syntactically. I don't find many examples after some random searches (really just one), but I remember remarking on this on several occasions (also when asked about it while reading with others); cf. this article. Apr 30, 2022 at 22:05
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    @humanissime Scytha. optimum et subtile responsum, ut semper. May 1, 2022 at 8:34
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    @tony:- LETTERA (III, 18) A GIOVANNI ANCHISEO. See cassiciaco.it/navigazione/scriptorium/testi%20medioevo/petrarca/… May 1, 2022 at 9:39
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    @tony quō is directional, 'if there's need of their service anywhere', you can even delete the to get offerunt sē quō.... Why not ubi? Because when volunteering you ask 'where to', not 'where is it'. quid is naturally the object of the verb, 'to get advice on anything'. Additionaly sī quid is used as an internal accusative even with intransitive verbs, comparable to 'somewhat' in English but more often equivalent to 'a bit, for some time, any etc.' May 3, 2022 at 18:27

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