Dispelling the myths…
There are many ways to state a reason or cause in English. Our students need to be aware of all of the choices, and they need to learn the sentence patterns and punctuation associated with each. On top of all that, there have been many controversial opinions on the usage of some of these terms through the years. Which rules are correct and which are myths? What should we teach our students? Read on for this editor’s opinion on the modern-day usage of these terms.
Before we discuss some common controversies and myths surrounding the following terms, a review of the basic sentence patterns is in order. Review the patterns and examples below with your students.
Because + SVO
Since + SVO
As + SVO
Because of the fact that + SVO
Due to the fact that + SVO
Because of + N
Due to + N
- I brought my umbrella because it was raining.
- Because it was raining, I brought my umbrella.
- I brought my umbrella since it was raining.
- Since it was raining, I brought my umbrella.
- I brought my umbrella as it was raining.
- As it was raining, I brought my umbrella.
- I brought my umbrella because of the fact that it was raining.
- Because of the fact that it was raining, I brought my umbrella.
- I brought my umbrella due to the fact that it was raining.
- Due to the fact that it was raining, I brought my umbrella.
- I brought my umbrella because of the rain.
- Because of the rain, I brought my umbrella.
- I brought my umbrella due to the rain.
- Due to the rain, I brought my umbrella.
Can we begin a sentence with because?
Yes, we can! In the past, some have argued that it’s not grammatically correct to start a sentence with because. Nowadays, most agree that it is perfectly acceptable. Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage, for example, states the following:
“This rule is a myth. Because is frequently used to begin sentences, particularly in magazine and newspaper writing.”
- Because her parents were worried about her, she called them regularly during her trip.
- Because I hadn’t studied French before, they put me in Level 1.
Can we use as to replace because or since?
Yes, we can, but it is best left to formal writing. Some grammarians have argued against this use because of possible ambiguity. (E.g., in the sentence As the phone was ringing, she got out of the shower, does as mean because or while?) However, most experts agree that the context would clear up any ambiguity. As Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage puts it, “Causal as is a standard and acceptable alternative to because and since.” They do note that as is much less frequently used than because or since, and that is something worth passing on to students. I would advise telling students that as is less common and more formal than because or since, and they should use it mainly in formal essay writing.
- I couldn't go to the concert as I didn't have a ticket.
- Please return the form tomorrow as the school will be closed the day after.
Can we use since instead of because?
Yes, we can. Some people believe that since should be used only for the temporal meaning (e.g., since January) and not the causal meaning. But, as The Chicago Manual of Style (16th ed.) points out, "The causal since was a part of the English language before Chaucer wrote in the fourteenth century, and it is useful as a slightly milder way of expressing causation than because." I advise my students to use since in both writing and speaking. Examples:
- Students aren't going back to school today since the teachers' union and the government haven't reached a deal.
- Since he was so distracted by his upcoming date, he forgot to call me yesterday.
Can we use due to instead of because of?
Basically, yes. There has been controversy since the 18th century over this construction, when some thought that owing to was the "correct" way to say as a result of. Some people still consider due to to be inferior to owing to or because of. However, the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary points out that "Due to is as grammatically sound as owing to" and "There is no solid reason to avoid due to." In fact, the definition for their due to entry is as a result of; because of. I tell my students that due to sounds slightly more formal than because of, and it is commonly used in writing. In speaking, I recommend sticking to the more casual because of. Examples:
- The game was canceled due to the rain.
- Due to the tension between the two parties, a mediator was called in.
The Fact That
What about the wordy expressions because of the fact that and due to the fact that? Should we use them?
These expressions are best avoided nowadays. In terms of plain language principles, the extra words the fact that are unnecessary to the meaning of the sentence and should be dropped. In their entry for due to the fact that, The Chicago Manual of Style (16th ed.) states clearly, “Use because instead.” If you wish, you could tell advanced students that they may want to use these terms (sparingly) in their formal, academic essays for variety (instead of using because and since repeatedly).
Because + Noun
Can we use because as a preposition?
There has been a recent trend, seen mostly in social media, of using because as a preposition (instead of its normal role as a conjunction that joins two sentences/clauses). Consider the example below:
A: Why did you turn off the TV?
B: Because homework.
Because homework replaces Because of my homework or Because I have homework. Efficient, yes, but is it grammatical? It was named the American Dialect Society’s Word of the Year 2013, as I discovered in Tyson Seburn’s humorous post, Because grammar (and cats). Should we teach it to our students? I believe that in relatively new language cases like this, there is no need to confuse lower-level students by mentioning all the exceptions to a grammar rule. However, with higher-level students, cases like this make for interesting discussions on the evolution of language—tell students that they might come across this new construction and ask them what they think about it. Do they have a similar construction in their own language? Stay tuned for an upcoming Discussion Starters lesson where students can practice some of these causal constructions.