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Avoid these words. Seriously.


[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. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for lest
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • Was he worse and were they afraid to tell her, lest she should go to him!

    Weighed and Wanting George MacDonald
  • Stand aside, Arnaud, lest you find a bolt through your gizzard.

    The White Company Arthur Conan Doyle
  • Yet they took no active measures in that way, lest they might have cause to regret it.

    The Dream Emile Zola
  • Nevertheless, we will have it done, lest their bad example should corrupt the other hogs.

    Tanglewood Tales Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • But we were afraid to lose sight of the bridge, lest we should get all adrift.

    Ned Myers James Fenimore Cooper
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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