Because, Because, Because

My husband’s first newspaper editor thought because was a bad word. Any time Charlie used because in a feature, he would get a phone call asking him to change it.

She apparently never noticed that professional writers use because all the time. Nor did she  bother to look it up in the dictionary. Charlie and I breathed a sigh of relief when she finally moved on to another publication to annoy a new set of writers.

I’ve often wondered where her fear of because came from. I’ve known lots of people who believe (mistakenly) that you can’t start a sentence with because. (Of course you can! Go to www.Bartleby.com and use your Find command to see how great writers use because.)

But I’ve never known anyone else who thought because was a bad word. Where did that notion come from?

This morning I may have found the answer. Here are two sentences from an education blog. Note that the because idea is ambiguous here:

Our test scores were on the rise and had been for a number of years. We were not on the California list of worst schools because of said rise.

(I don’t like “said rise,” but let’s leave that for another day.)

Reading those two sentences, you might mistakenly conclude that the rise caused some schools to be on the California list. The sentence needs to be revised:

Because of that rise, we were not on the California list of worst schools.

Simple enough. So here are the points I’d like to make today:

1.  Because is a useful and proper word. Don’t be afraid of it.

2.  When you use because, make sure your meaning is absolutely clear.

3. (Big picture!) The workbook exercises and grammatical discourses beloved of teachers have limited usefulness in teaching students how to write well. They won’t, for example, help you make today’s sentence more clear.

4.  Always ask a friend or family member to read and give you feedback about what you’ve written. Don’t argue when they suggest you change something you’d written. Fix it.

One more point remains: the widespread (and mistaken) belief that you can’t start a sentence with because. Tune in Friday to learn where that urban legend probably came from (courtesy of my friend Neal Steiger).

Professional word cloud

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2 thoughts on “Because, Because, Because

  1. Willem

    Dear Jean,

    Shibboleth is an interesting word, but I’m not sure you are using it correctly in your latest post. I don’t see how you can have a shibboleth *against* something. Perhaps there is a definition of this word that I’m not aware of?

    There was also an edit gone awry in this sentence: “But I’ve never known anyone else who was thought because was a bad word.”

    Keep the posts coming please! I enjoy reading them.

  2. ballroomdancer Post author

    Hi, Willem – thanks for your wonderful comment! I deleted the unwanted “was.” I do a lot of editing, and – so help me – no matter how many times I read over a post, some leftover words escape me. Edits are ALWAYS welcome.
    Now a confession. I was bewildered when I read your comment about shibboleth. You’re probably right (I immediately changed it.) That’s not what confused me. Here’s the puzzle – it’s not a word I ever use, and I couldn’t understand why you thought it was in my post. And so I reread it – and there it was. (Am I crazy? Do I sometimes travel to an alternate universe?)
    I’m glad you enjoy the posts! I’m always happy to get feedback from readers. With best wishes – Jean

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