More thoughts on since vs. because. Or, Since you read my previous post…

In my previous post I talked about the use of since and because and how they are different or same. This piece is more a hangover due to the previous post. After having thought and talked about the grammar side of since vs. because, I still felt the previous post was not complete. While I talked more about the perfect tenses, object of since, and other things, I also realized that this is not how I approached the conundrum while editing. So do many seasoned editors. And sometimes even when the customer’s specification was not to change since to because, I did make a change; it’s more of a feel than of the grammar. Then there was a reflection on this question: Why did I change? Was it out of habit? Perhaps not, because there were many instances where since was not disturbed. In fact, to me the word since has more charm than because. Try it out yourself: write sentences with since and because as conjunctions and read the sentences aloud. The sentence with since is music to ears, isn’t it? It is, or it may not. Whatever be the preference, is there any logic behind the choice of these words? It looks like there is. Google helped and here is my understanding on this dubious pair of words.

As you started digging deeper, you realize that there is this feeble as to mean the same thing and to add to the confusion. So it is not just the choice between two words now, but between three words. The consolation comes from the fact that the choice of as is not as complex as the other two words.

One of the criteria to choose between the three, according to the online Cambridge dictionary, is how formal your writing is. Because is less formal than the other two. Personally, as sounds more colloquial, let alone more formal.

Another criterion is the writer’s emphasis. As conjunctions these words provide reason-clauses. There is an action, and there is a reason. The choice of the word is based on which is emphasized, the main clause or the subordinating reason-clause. If the emphasis is on the reason, use a because-clause. If the emphasis is on the action, use since or as.

A caveat. because and because of are not the same. Because, as we have talked so frequently now, is a conjunction; because of is a prepositional phrase. Bearing the risk of being naive, let me state that we cannot replace because with since in the latter case.

There is another phrase that creates nuisance to editors: due to. But let that be reserved for a later occasion.

What is your take? Do you have any peeves on the choice between these words?

And there are myths

Recently I received a WhatsApp message, a picture message with Vivekananda, the great saint in his arms-crossed pose. Unusually, this time it was about English grammar. I was rather surprised. Many of his quotations are on meditation, Hinduism, devotion, and the like. Vivekananda on grammar? Hmm, interesting. But I immediately realized that a similar quotation was attributed to C.N.Annadurai, erstwhile chief minister of Tamil Nadu. Okay, the story goes that Vivekananda was asked by an Englishman whether the former can create a sentence with three because‘s consecutively, to which Vivekananda replied:

No sentence can begin with because because because is a conjunction.

This is a slightly varied version to what is attributed to C.N.Annadurai:

No sentence can end with because because because is a conjunction.

I’ve two problems here: (1) the Indian mentality to attach everything intellectual to anyone we want to celebrate (the atrocious American-flag-flying-half-mast tweets and the UN observing World Students’ Day, both in honour of Dr. A.P.J.Abdul Kalam) and (2) the grammatical perspective to the above two variations of three because‘s.

I reserve my comments on the first one to a different forum and talk about the second. I disagree with both the versions. There are grammar rules and there are myths. And myths outnumber rules.

Firstly, to answer “Vivekananda”, a sentence can begin with becauseBecause is a conjunction doesn’t mean that it cannot begin a sentence. Anyone with a basic understanding of sentence formation will immediately tell you that one of the basic sentence structures is a dependent clause followed by an independent clause. As a subordinating conjunction, because heads dependent clauses. So,

Because of the WhatsApp message, I’m motivated to write this post.

Next, to answer Annadurai, a sentence can end with because. Again, the principle argument would be that because is a conjunction and cannot hang around at the end of the sentence without anything to connect. Oh, wait. Consider this:

It’s a myth that no sentence can end with because.

As a copy editor, I would rather write

It’s a myth that no sentence can end with because.

The subtle difference is that in the latter example, the word is not used semantically, but as a word. Foul game, you may cry. But in the original two sentences (yes, those by “Vivekananda” and Annadurai), two of the three instances are because as a word; I just used it once.

Sorry “Vivekanandas” and “Annadurais” out there, don’t spread myth. You may be booked by the Cyber Crime department.

PS: I’m sure you noticed that I broke in this post another myth that and and but cannot begin sentences. Pat yourself on the back.