I've been shown an Out of Office template, and one of the sentences in it asks the sender to contact someone else within the company "in case of need", as the email will not be forwarded.

I've never come across that phrasing before. Is it British English?

Usually, personally, I'd go with "if/as required", although that might be a tad too strong in this context...

  • 1
    (As someone from an older generation, perhaps) 'In case of need' comes across as a less abstract, and therefore more empathetic, version of ' if necessary'. 'As required' emphasizes an offer to the sender of a free choice, of who, or how often, to call. Commented Jul 6, 2023 at 10:59
  • It is rather wooden and impersonal, but boilerplate text can be forgiven that. "if your matter requires prompt attention" or similar would be less curt.
    – TimR
    Commented Jul 6, 2023 at 12:11
  • It reminds me a lot of "in case of emergency", which is certainly not British-specific.
    – David
    Commented Jul 6, 2023 at 17:16

3 Answers 3


“In case of need” derives from the more common idiomatic usage of the expression:

In case of:

We use in case of + noun to mean ‘if and when something happens’:

In case of breakdown, please press the alarm button and call this number. (if and when the lift breaks down, …)

(Cambridge Dictionary)

“In case of need” is used mainly in formal contexts.

See Google Books for more examples.


Google ngrams show the trends I'd expect:

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[a] 'in case of fire' is included as a related example, as it was a common label above 'break-the-glass' fire alarms in public buildings, certainly in the UK

[b] results for examples filtered for Google's US- and UK-based corpora are quite similar, though the expression 'in case of' does seem even rarer in the US sample.

The results strongly suggest that the 'in case of [eventuality, usually undesirable]' prepositional phrase is nowadays rare, and arguably getting rarer (so dated).

'In case of need' is certainly highly formal, and 'if needed/required' or 'if the need arises' would be used nowadays even in government departments. It's perhaps an unusual example (among rarities!) as 'need' is usually thought of as being durative rather than inchoative, but 'if the need arises' shows that the inchoative usage is also fine.

  • 1
    “Was”? Do fire alarms not say Break glass in case of fire anymore in the UK? Commented Jul 6, 2023 at 17:08
  • I don't know. Yes, perhaps using past simple defaults to a completed interpretation. Commented Jul 6, 2023 at 18:41

From the specific perspective of a speaker of the Queen's English ** : at the very least, it's unusual. "In need" would usually be associated with "the needy", i.e. people who could benefit from charity or some form of assistance.

"In case of emergency" is common, as in "In case of emergency dial 999". "In case of fire" ditto, as in "In case of fire break glass".

For something which isn't life-threatening, for example because an email recipient will be absent for a few days, something like "If you have an urgent problem..." is far more common.

** With apologies to His Majesty, but mercifully the English language hasn't changed much since his coronation.

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