Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: lest (2).

lest (2). Today: Mood Following “lest.” “Lest” is best followed by a verb in the subjunctive mood, not the indicative, because “lest” points to something that is merely possible, not definite — e.g.: “The Bosnian Serb military leader is reportedly leery of leaving the self-proclaimed republic of Srpska, lest he be dragged off to The Hague where an international tribunal seeks to try him for crimes against humanity.” James Ledbetter, “Waiting for Radovan,” Village Voice, 11 Mar. 1997, at 34. Occasionally, though, writers ill-advisedly use the indicative — e.g.: “Certain foreign policy experts urged . . . that the West shouldn’t press Mikhail Gorbachev too hard to liberate his dissidents lest it makes [read ‘make’] it harder for him to do other good things.” Suzanne Fields, “Trouble Ahead for Israel’s Labor Party,” Wash. Times, 16 Mar. 1995, at A19. Idiomatically speaking, if a modal verb follows “lest,” it should be “might” (or perhaps “should”), not “will” or “would” — e.g.: o “Other justices found it strange that judicial candidates could talk about old cases, but never current ones, lest it would [delete ‘would’] be regarded as prejudging a case.” Tom Webb, “Judicial Elections Argued,” Pioneer Press (St. Paul), 27 Mar. 2002, at A1. o “Jonathan Clark nipped him at the wire, lest he would [read ‘should’] have three straight titles.” Dave Hickman, “Westfall Wraps Up Fourth Title with Final-Round 68,” Charleston Gaz. & Daily Mail, 29 June 2002, at B1. For information about the Language-Change Index click here. Quotation of the Day: “A device like alliteration must be used cautiously. In abundance, it becomes tiresome. Overdone, it interferes with understanding.” Royal Bank of Canada, The Communication of Ideas 21 (rev. ed. 1972).
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