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?

Since when since has been replaced by because? Or, to sin(ce) or not to sin(ce)?

The moment you started typing since, Google will suggest since vs because. Such is the power of this pair of words. The confusion stems from the fact that since and because are interchangeable, though not always. In fact, there is no confusion most of the times. Perhaps people were asked to clarify when there was ambiguity. As in most of the stories, these exceptions became the norm and changing since to because to express reasoning was always expected.
Now, why is the confusion? Because since can be an adverb, preposition, or a conjunction; because is only a conjunction. As you can see, as the only place where these two cross their lives is as conjunctions. So in order to understand the “rule”, let’s rule out the other two possibilities: being an adverb or preposition. Let’s consider the following sentences:

It has been raining incessantly since Diwali eve.

The rain started on Diwali eve and we haven’t stepped out of home since.

You can easily find that since is a preposition in the first sentence; there is an object of preposition (Diwali eve). Since as an adverb will not have one. You may also have noted that the object of the preposition since is the answer to the question “when”? Some more examples with since as a preposition:

We haven’t partied since your birthday party. (Since when? Since your birthday party)

The industry has continuously reinvented itself since the market slump. (Since when? Since the market slump)

Since as an adverb:

The original building has long since (= long before now) been demolished. (from Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary)

There is no “since when?” here.

A point worthy of note is, since is associated with perfect tense in both these cases. Have you noticed it: has been raining, haven’t stepped out, haven’t partied, has reinvented, has been demolished?

So with these constructions you need two points of time, to denote a duration. The temporal references can both be in the past or beginning in the past extending till the present time.

Now to the central point of our discussion: since as a conjunction, a subordinating conjunction at that. By definition, then, since introduces a subordinate clause. The moment you see a subordinate clause following since you know that the function is as a conjunction, not otherwise. Once again, let’s consider a pair of sentences with since  as a conjunction to understand when it can mean because:

Since it rained on Diwali eve, this Diwali was far less enthusiastic, at least on the Diwali day. However, people have celebrated with fervour since it stopped raining.

Noting that the first sentence doesn’t have a perfect/simple present tense combination, you can conclude that since in the first case reasons why Diwali was far less enthusiastic. By a similar logic, since in the second sentence denotes a point of time in the past. But the conclusion one can drawn from the second sentence is not as clear as the first one. The context helps then.

Some points to ponder when you come across since in a sentence:

  1. If what follows since is a phrase and if an answer to the question “Since when?” exists, then since is a preposition. The answer is the object of the preposition.
  2. If what follows since is not a clause and there is no answer to the question “Since when?”, since is an adverb.
  3. If the since-clause is written in perfect tense and answers the question “Since when?”, since is a conjunction denoting a point of time.
  4. If the since-clause is written in a tense other than perfect tense and answers the question “Why?”, since is a conjunction and can be safely replaced with because.
  5. If the since-clause is written in perfect tense and answers both questions “Since when?” and “Why?”, god save you. Look for some clue from the context.