Sentences with Because Can Be Confusing

When my husband started writing gardening columns 20 years ago, he had an editor who thought because was a bad word. Every time because found its way into a column, Charlie got a worried phone call from her. It was an enormous relief when she moved on to another newspaper and Charlie was free to write because whenever he felt like it.

We never found out where this peculiar phobia came from – but I have a theory. Very likely she’d had a teacher who said that “because” can be a tricky word (true – I’ll explain in a moment)  – and she misinterpreted that warning as a prohibition.

That editor came to mind a few days ago when I saw this headline for a Carolyn Hax advice column:

She thinks her daughter isn’t married because of her clothing choices

The worried mother thought the daughter’s revealing clothes were driving away nice, marriageable men. But when I first read the headline, I thought the mother was harboring doubts that her daughter was really married – based on her clothing choices.

Because is indeed a tricky word. Try this sentence:

We didn’t buy this house because of its location.

The meaning is obvious: Bad location – we said no to the realtor. But not necessarily! Imagine this conversation:

“What a great location! It’s easy to see why you bought this house.”
“No, we didn’t buy this house because of its location. What sold us was the unusual architecture.”

*  *  *  *  *  *

I often answer questions about writing posted on Quora.com . Many of those questions begin with “Is this sentence grammatical?” All too often the answer is yes, it’s grammatical – but it’s a lousy sentence: clumsy, unnatural, or (as in today’s example) ambiguous.

(And here’s a P.S. for regular visitors to my blog: Yes, today’s post is yet another example of the ways that language eludes our grasp and our control.)

Advice columnist Carolyn Hax

     Carolyn Hax

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4 thoughts on “Sentences with Because Can Be Confusing

  1. ballroomdancer Post author

    Hi, Darrell! You’re right that any sentence can be ambiguous. But I don’t seem to encounter similar problems with “although” and “when” sentences, for example.

  2. Darrell Turner

    I think that “since” sentences can be as ambiguous as ” because” sentences for this reason: The word “since” can be used to mean (1) after a specific event or (2) because. This is why many newspaper copy desks allow the word “since” to be used only in the first sence.

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