Grammar Crammer: Because vs. Since

Smile: It’s Grammar Time!

Both the SAT and ACT test grammar; the SAT in the Multiple Choice Writing Section, and the ACT in the English Test. A thorough knowledge of English grammar is also necessary if you want a top score on the essay section of either exam. We now have a series of posts to help: Grammar Crammer! In this post we’ll discuss one grammar rule that is frequently tested on both exams: because vs. since. See our previous post here.

Because it is almost the holidays, we here at College Compass wanted to include another grammar post to keep you on your mistletoes!


Today’s topic is “When is it grammatically correct to use because in a sentence?”

“But why can’t I use a conjunction at the beginning of a sentence?”

Now perhaps you cringed when you read the first line of this post, thinking to yourself, “How dare they start a sentence with because! I remember in 4th grade when Mrs. So-And-So drilled it into my head that you shouldn’t start a sentence that way. They should be poked with very sharp pencils or forced to take SAT exams all day as punishment for their grammar infractions.”

Well, I hate to break it to you, but Mrs. So-And-So lied. She did this for a seemingly good reason, which is to insure that you don’t write sentence fragments. But it is completely acceptable to start a sentence with because as long as you make sure to include a main clause in there somewhere.

For example:

Because I love peppermint, I always stock up on Swiss Miss holiday hot chocolate.

Who DOESN’T like peppermint?

[subordinate clause]                                        [main clause]

(NOTE: Subordinate clauses are also referred to as dependent clauses, which are kind of like clingy ex-significant others. They need someone else to feel “whole.” Main clauses are also called independent clauses, and can stand on their own as a sentence.)

This sentence could be rewritten as follows and still make sense:

I always stock up on Swiss Miss holiday hot chocolate because I love peppermint.

So bottom line, if you start a sentence with because, make sure it isn’t a fragment…

Because I always fly Southwest Airlines.

[fragment, consider revising]

Depending on what you are trying to express, you may find that using since in the place of because sounds both less awkward and makes more sense all around.

Because – expresses a causal relationship (cause and effect)

No fries?

Because I always eat value meal burgers, I am 40 pounds overweight.          

Since – expresses a temporal relationship (time)

Since I have stopped stuffing my gizzard with Big Macs, I have lost some weight.

A good rule of thumb is that you can add “the time that” after since and it should inform the sentence a bit more, and give it a sense of time.

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The last example of because is actually a commonly misused one. Does this look familiar to you?

Officer, the reason I was speeding is because I had to go to the bathroom really bad!

(Probably this didn’t go over too well with the cop; I hope you didn’t try this or any excuses akin to it. “…is because I had a pie in the oven.” “…is because I was texting and not paying attention!” “…is because I was racing my friend!” None of these will get you anywhere with them as I have learned.)

But grammatically, what is wrong with using because in this sentence? The easiest explanation is that of repetitiveness and redundancy. (See what I did there!?) One grammar source simplifies the meaning of “because” as closest to “for the reason that”. So if you substitute that into the sentence, it becomes….

Officer, the reason I was speeding is for the reason that I had to go to the bathroom really bad!

The best way to correct this would be to delete “because” and put in a “that”, implying causality without being redundant.

On a side note, just because you can use a conjunction like “because” at the beginning of a sentence does NOT mean that every Sentence Correction question you encounter beginning with a conjunction will have no error! Remember, it’s okay to start a sentence with a conjunction so long as that conjunction is part of a subordinate clause that is itself linked to an independent or main clause.

By Curtis Barber

Remember, if you want extra help studying for the SAT or ACT, you can always study with experts like me at Test Masters. Until next time, keep studying!

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