Which Word Wednesday: Because vs. Since

By January 8, 2014 language 2 Comments

tumblr_inline_mntzr1Mwen1qz4rgpIt has been said that the pen is mightier than the sword. That’s because the pen writes words that convey thoughts and meaning. Words have power to build up and to tear down—and to send language lovers like me into fits of laughter (or anger).

That’s why it helps to know which word to use for the context. Today’s Which Word Wednesday duel is between because and since, which most of us use interchangeably. The assumption weakens our message, however, as these words serve distinct purposes. Let’s look first to the New Oxford American Dictionary:

because :: conjunction
for the reason that; since

since :: preposition, conjunction, adverb
preposition :: in the intervening period between (the time mentioned) and the time under consideration, typically the present

conjunction :: for the reason that: because

adverb :: ago

Right away we see common ground between the pair as conjunctions. But since wears three hats in the language world, serving as a preposition, conjunction, and adverb. He’s a busy fellow! Which is exactly why because and since cannot always be interchangeable. The dictionary helps with this usage note:

When using since as a causal conjunction to mean “because” or given that,” be aware that in some contexts or constructions the word may be construed as referring to time. For example, in the sentence, Since Mrs. Jefferson moved to Baltimore in the 1990s, she was not aware of the underlying complexities, it is not clear, especially at the beginning, whether since means “because” or “from the time when.” It is often better to simply say “because,” if that is the intended meaning.

This same because/since dilemma is highlighted in the cartoon in today’s post. To say, “since we met yesterday, I’ve been feeling sick” can have several meanings:

  • that you have been ill from the time you met your friend until now (a time frame)
  • that your friend is the cause of your illness (the reason you are sick)

This is why it’s problematic to use since as a synonym for because. If you got your illness from your friend, use because. If you have been ill during the time from the meeting until now, use since. Here’s a memory hook:

  • if you are casting blame, use because (blame = because)
  • if you are speaking of a time span, use since (span = since)

What’s my WWW verdict? Since words are often used incorrectly, I often feel sick. (Am I sick from sloppy grammar? Have I been sick from the time of seeing sloppy grammar until now? hmmm.)

What’s your verdict? Do you use because and since interchangeably? Do you have a tip for keeping them straight? Does sloppy grammar cause you to feel ill? Do share in the comments.



Check out previous Which Word Wednesday verdicts here.

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