June 26, 2014

Weekly Language Usage Tips: because or since

Posted in because, since at 9:00 am by dlseltzer

A reader writes:


I was wondering if you could shed some light on the appropriate uses of the words “because” and “since.”  I was taught that you couldn’t start a sentence with “because” and that “since” would be a reasonable substitute.  Recently others have suggested that “since” can only be used when referring to time and that you can indeed begin a sentence with “because.”  Since you’re the guru, I figured you might be able to help us figure this out once and for all!

I can help you out with this. Here’s the scoop. First, about starting a sentence with ‘because’—hokum! Utter and complete hokum! That’s not to say that this myth is not persistent, it is. The consensus seems to be that this myth is the result of teachers thinking that this practice would lead to a proliferation of sentence fragments:

Because the rain was relentless.

Really? You think? I don’t think so, but generations of teachers have kept this ‘rule’ alive. The bottom line is, as the writer wrote, “You can, indeed, begin a sentence with ‘because.'”

What’s next? ‘Since’ as a reasonable substitute for ‘because’? Sure. The words can often be used interchangeably. Often, but not always. Both ‘since’ and ‘because’ refer to causality, and when used in that sense, they can be considered synonyms.

Because the experiment was successful, the team was excited to publish the results.

Since the experiment was successful, the team was excited to publish the results.

However, since also suggests time.

Since last night, I have not been able to get that tune out of my head.

When used this way, ‘since’ is not synonymous with ‘because.’

This is where the caution comes in. Sometimes, the meaning of ‘since’ seems ambiguous, and it is not clear whether the causal or temporal meaning is intended.

Since she finished the last experiment, the student has been able to write her thesis.

Is the student able to write her thesis because the last experiment is complete or has she been able to write it in the time since she completed the experiment?

Therein lies the ambiguity which we want to avoid. So, basically, the answer to the writer’s question is this: you can do whatever you want—start a sentence with because or since—use either when showing causality. Just be careful that there is no ambiguity, that the meaning is clear. And you’ll be fine.



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