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[lest] /lɛst/
for fear that; so that (one) should not (used negatively to introduce a clause expressive of an action or occurrence requiring caution):
He kept his notes by his side lest faulty memory lead him astray.
that (used after words expressing fear, danger, etc.):
There was danger lest the plan become known.
Origin of lest
late Old English
before 1000; Middle English leste, contraction of the lesse the, thi les the; late Old English the lǣste, earlier thȳ lǣs the, literally, whereby less that (thȳ instrumental case of the demonstrative and relative pronoun, lǣs less, the relative particle)
Can be confused
least, lest, let's. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2017.
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Examples from the Web for lest
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • That's why I come, lest this appointment should ha' proved a pitfall to you.

    Rhoda Fleming, Complete George Meredith
  • It is the fashion o'er this beast to rave, But have a care, lest you become his slave.

    A Phenomenal Fauna Carolyn Wells
  • "Surely you will forgive me," he began in fear, lest he had offended.

    A Captain in the Ranks George Cary Eggleston
  • After her I hastened, and implored her to be still, lest the barbarians should hear and overtake us.

    Margaret Tudor Annie T. Colcock
  • I could see he was quaking for his nuptialities--lest Maria should not be in full beauty.

    The Ladies E. Barrington
British Dictionary definitions for lest


conjunction (subordinating; takes should or a subjunctive verb)
so as to prevent any possibility that: he fled the country lest he be captured and imprisoned
(after verbs or phrases expressing fear, worry, anxiety, etc) for fear that; in case: he was alarmed lest she should find out
Word Origin
Old English the lǣste, earlier thӯ lǣs the, literally: whereby less that
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for lest

c.1200, contracted from Middle English phrase les te "less that," from Old English phrase þy læs þe "whereby less that," from þy, instrumental case of demonstrative article þæt "that" + læs (see less) + þe "the." The þy was dropped and the remaining two words contracted into leste.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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