Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I have two sentences as follows:

  1. We don't know what we should do if the worst case happens.
  2. The worse case is when the math teacher does not allow us to use calculators in the test.

I want to combine them into a single sentence. I am thinking of the following options but not sure which one is the correct one.

We don't know what we should do if the worst case happens; the math teacher does not allow us to use calculators in the test.

or

We don't know what we should do if the worst case happens---the math teacher does not allow us to use calculators in the test.

or

We don't know what we should do if the worst case -- the math teacher does not allow us to use calculators in the test -- happens.

share|improve this question
1  
Hard to say, because I can't see the connection between the two parts of the sentence. –  Barrie England Jan 1 '12 at 19:50
    
@BarrieEngland: the second part of the sentence is supposed to be the worst case scenario, at least that's how I get it –  RiMMER Jan 1 '12 at 19:50
1  
Then a simple ‘and’ between ‘happens’ and ‘the math teacher’ might do it. –  Barrie England Jan 1 '12 at 19:57
    
@BarrieEngland: I think you should post it as an answer, I will be happy to upvote! –  RiMMER Jan 1 '12 at 19:58
    
@RiMMER Ψ: Thanks. Done. –  Barrie England Jan 1 '12 at 21:49

6 Answers 6

up vote 2 down vote accepted

How about

We don't know what we should do if the worst case happens, which is that the math teacher does not allow us to use calculators in the test.

share|improve this answer
    
"We don't know what we should do if the worst case, which is that the math teacher does not allow us to use calculators in the test, happens." might be OK. –  Who is crazy first Feb 2 '12 at 17:42
    
@CounterTerrorist: You seem to think that if the second clause doesn't come right after the phrase "worst case", it won't be understood that it's what it refers to. But it will be understood. –  Armen Ծիրունյան Feb 2 '12 at 17:57

This seems to fix it to my mind:

We don't know what we should do if the worst case happens and the math teacher does not allow us to use calculators in the test.

share|improve this answer
    
Somewhat ambiguous: it can mean that the worst case is that the math, etc., but can also mean that the worst case is unspecified and two things will occur. –  msh210 Jan 1 '12 at 21:53
    
@msh210: Nah, think of the context. –  Barrie England Jan 1 '12 at 21:54
2  
This. This right here is the answer, @CounterTerrorist. –  RiMMER Jan 2 '12 at 2:47

If, as proposed in a comment to the question, the math's teacher's disallowing the use of calculators is the "worst case" spoken of, and if I wanted to preserve the sentence in the question as closely as possible, then I'd use that:

We don't know what we should do if the worst case happens, that the math teacher does not allow us to use calculators in the test.

or

We don't know what we should do if the worst case happens: that the math teacher does not allow us to use calculators in the test.

share|improve this answer
    
I don't agree with the comma placement at all. Misplaced commas are my worst nightmare in English language. –  RiMMER Jan 1 '12 at 20:32
    
Oh dear. I don't particularly mind the comma, but the semicolon looks awful to me. Whatever - @Barrie's "and" seems best to me. The possibility of ambiguity seems inconceivable to me, since it presupposes that there must be some other concurrent worst case scenario that the writer hasn't explicitly specified. Asteroid strike during the exam? WW3 starts? The mind boggles. –  FumbleFingers Jan 1 '12 at 22:55

I think that the colon is the best way to make it clear that the lack of calculators is the worst-case scenario, and that a slight recasting of the second half will also make it simpler:

We don't know what we should do if the worst case happens: not being allowed to use calculators during the test.

share|improve this answer

I'm also assuming, as suggested in the comments, that the "worst case" implies the need for calculators.

If that is case, I believe your original choice of the semicolon is appropriate, since it is intended to link two closely related independent clauses (which is what you've got).

We don't know what we should do if the worst case happens.

and

The math teacher does not allow us to use calculators in the test.

share|improve this answer

I decided to use this one:

We don't know what we should do if the worst case -- the math teacher does not allow us to use calculators in the test -- happens.

share|improve this answer
1  
For those who down vote this answer, please give me the reason. I will consider your advice and change my decision. –  Who is crazy first Feb 2 '12 at 17:32
    
This is an excellent example of a "broken-backed sentence". I.e. a sentence with a long clause between the subject (the worst case) and the verb (happens). Broken-backed sentences are notoriously difficult to read and understand. –  Pitarou Feb 3 '12 at 6:29

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.