Because vs. Since – What Is the Difference?

Marcus Froland

As a speaker or writer of the English language, you may have encountered the challenge of distinguishing between the conjunctions because and since. These two words may appear similar in function, but their usage differs based on context and meaning. Understanding the nuances between them can significantly improve your communication skills and enhance your writing clarity.

In this article, you’ll explore the roles of “because” and “since” in English grammar, their historical backgrounds, and best practices for using these essential conjunctions. Dive in to strengthen your grasp on these tricky linguistic tools and ensure your writing remains precise and compelling.

Understanding Causal Conjunctions in English Grammar

In the complex world of English grammar, causal conjunctions play a vital role in connecting clauses and providing coherence. Among these conjunctions, ‘because’ and ‘since’ are commonly used to express causality and reasons. To ensure clarity in your writing, it is essential to understand their specific functions and potential ambiguity. Let’s dive deeper into the role of ‘because’ as a causal connector and explore ‘since’ for both time and cause.

The Role of ‘Because’ as a Causal Connector

The conjunction ‘because’ serves as a subordinating conjunction, providing clear cause-and-effect relationships in sentences. It is highly appreciated for its unambiguous role in expressing reasons. When ‘because’ begins a sentence, it is followed by a comma and can be placed at either the beginning or middle of sentences to indicate why something happened or to explain the cause of an action or event. Consider the following examples:

  1. She decided to take a day off because she was feeling unwell.
  2. Because it started raining, they had to postpone the picnic.

Exploring ‘Since’ for Both Time and Cause

‘Since’ holds dual functions within English grammar, expressing both the passage of time and causation. It is also categorized as a subordinating conjunction. Like ‘because’, it can be located at either the start or the middle of a sentence to convey the cause of something, or to denote actions extending from the past to the present. Although its versatility can potentially introduce ambiguity, context usually mitigates confusion. However, some grammarians advise caution in casual speech due to its potential to perplex listeners. Observe these examples using ‘since’ for both time and cause:

  1. He has been working on the project since last month.
  2. Since there was a traffic jam, she arrived late at the office.

Contextual Clues to Disambiguate ‘Since’ and ‘Because’

Context plays a crucial role in clarifying the meaning of ‘since’ when it could be interpreted as expressing time or cause. Real-world usage demonstrates that sentences harboring ‘since’ or ‘as’ are rarely misunderstood because surrounding text provides necessary clarification. Consider the following examples:

“Since the boss was on a business trip, the meeting was postponed.”

In the sentence above, the context makes it clear that ‘since’ is used to denote causality.

“She has been working at the company since 2010.”

Here, ‘since’ is clearly used to denote the passage of time.

Grammarians who emphasize formal usage may suggest avoiding using ‘since’ to signify causation; however, practical usage trends show that these concerns are often overstated, with the sentence’s context sufficiently clarifying the intended meaning.

The Subtle Nuances Between ‘Because’ and ‘Since’

While both “because” and “since” function as causal conjunctions, there is a subtle difference that sets them apart. “Because” establishes a more forceful cause-and-effect relationship, whereas “since” implies a softer link between cause and effect. This nuance may influence your choice of conjunction depending on the desired strength of connection between the clauses.

Consider these two examples:

  1. The marathon runner was disqualified because they had taken a banned substance.
  2. The marathon runner was disqualified since they had taken a banned substance.

In both sentences, the use of “because” and “since” demonstrates causality. However, the use of “because” in the first sentence conveys a stronger and more direct relationship between the disqualification and the use of a banned substance. In contrast, “since” in the second sentence implies a milder relationship, possibly suggesting the possibility of other factors contributing to the event.

Another aspect to consider when choosing between “because” and “since” is the potential for ambiguity. As previously mentioned, “since” has dual functions, expressing both causation and time. Thus, using “since” in a sentence could lead to confusion regarding which meaning is intended. Conversely, “because” exclusively denotes causation, eliminating the risk of ambiguity.

It is essential to be aware of the subtle nuances between “because” and “since” to convey the intended meaning and avoid confusion in your writing.

Historical Usage of ‘Because’ and ‘Since’

The conjunctions “because” and “since” have played crucial roles in English grammar for centuries, evolving and adapting their usage to suit different communication needs. Let us explore how these conjunctions have developed their meanings from their classical origins to modern syntax.

‘Because’ in Classical and Modern Syntax

As a linguistic tool for stating reasons and explanations, “because” has been firmly rooted in English since the inception of the language. From Old English “for þon þe” to Middle English “by cause that” to modern “because,” its role as a clear signal of causation has remained consistent and unambiguous throughout history. Today, it is a staple in the syntax of English language users who seek to convey causality definitively.

‘Since’ Through the Ages: From Time to Reason

In contrast, the use of “since” has seen a much more diverse range of applications over the centuries. From its origins in Old English “sith”, primarily meaning “afterwards,” “since” has been steadily expanding its repertoire to include both temporal and causal meanings.

Old English: “Sith his don writen was, sone is his nime to Rome comen.”
Translation: “Since his deed was written, his fame soon came to Rome.”

In Middle English, “since” began being used to suggest causality, as seen in this quote from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales:

Or elles sithens that nature compassed
The causaliite or elles instrument.

Today, “since” embodies both temporal and causal meanings within the English language. Though some usage guides recommend using “since” with caution when indicating causality to prevent any potential ambiguity for the reader, it has become a widely accepted practice in modern English.

Century Usage
Old English Temporal (Afterwards)
Middle English Temporal and Causal (Cause)
Modern English Temporal and Causal (Cause)

Throughout the course of history, both “because” and “since” have evolved to suit the communication needs of English language users. Understanding this evolution is key to appreciating the nuances and roles of these conjunctions in the contemporary language landscape.

Practical Grammar Tips for ‘Because’ and ‘Since’

Linguistic clarity is paramount when choosing between “because” and “since.” In this section, we will provide practical tips to help you make the right choice between these two conjunctions, ensuring that your writing is clear and easy to understand.

When to Opt for ‘Because’ Over ‘Since’

It is advisable to opt for “because” when the intent is to explicitly state a reason without ambiguity, particularly when a sentence could be mistaken for expressing a temporal meaning. “Because” is void of any time-related connotations, offering a directly understood cause-and-effect relationship. For example:

“The project was delayed because one of the team members fell ill.”

In this case, using “because” clearly indicates a cause-and-effect relationship between the project’s delay and a team member’s illness.

Ensuring Clarity in Your Writing

For absolute clarity in writing, particularly in cases where negative constructions are involved or when there is a risk of dual interpretations (time vs. reason), “because” is the safer choice.

  1. It avoids the ambiguity present in “since,” which requires careful sentence context to make the meaning clear.
  2. Proper sentence construction ensures that readers comprehend the intended significance without confusion.

When writing, remember to keep the context of your sentences in mind, and opt for “because” if there is a chance your reader could become confused by the dual meanings of “since.”

The Formality Factor: Choosing the Right Conjunction

The level of formality in writing influences the choice of causal conjunctions. Consider the following factors when deciding which conjunction to use:

  • Universality: “Because” is universally accepted and typically faces no criticism, making it suitable for any register of speech or writing.
  • Mild Causality: “Since” can sometimes be preferred when a less direct link between cause and effect is desired, or when the writer intends to convey a milder causality.

Nonetheless, if “since” is chosen for its formality, it must be positioned in sentences to preclude any potential misinterpretation by readers.

Since the team leader was on vacation, we decided to postpone the meeting.”

In this case, using “since” indicates a milder causality between the leader’s absence and the decision to postpone the meeting.

By following these practical grammar tips, you can ensure that your writing is clear and precise, effectively conveying your intended meaning to your readers.

Common Misconceptions and Clear Examples

Though “because” and “since” are often perceived as interchangeable connectors, they still present unique characteristics. “Since” can introduce interpretation challenges if its dual meanings overlap in a single sentence. To avoid ambiguity, it’s essential to understand their proper usage and context. Here, we provide examples from various texts to illustrate the appropriate use of both conjunctions.

When using “because,” the meaning remains direct and unambiguous, as in this example: “She canceled the meeting because she was feeling under the weather.” In this case, “because” explicitly indicates a cause-and-effect relationship between her feeling unwell and canceling the meeting. On the other hand, consider this example with “since”: “The sales team has been working remotely since the COVID-19 pandemic began.” Here, “since” expresses a temporal meaning, indicating an action continuing over time. In a different context, “since” might demonstrate causation like so: “Since it was raining heavily, they decided to stay indoors.” Although this could introduce confusion with its dual meanings, the context makes the intent clear.

If you find yourself grappling with uncertainty when choosing between “because” and “since,” try rephrasing your sentence or opting for appropriate synonyms. For example, you might transform the previously mentioned sentence into “Owing to the heavy rain, they decided to stay indoors,” or “Heavy rain caused them to decide to stay indoors.” By focusing on clear expression, you can deliver your intended message without confusion, ensuring your writing remains engaging and informative.