Myths of editing: since vs. because

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Being an editor is a satisfying job. It feels good to catch a typo, spot an inconsistency, or unpack garbled prose.

But sometimes, we make certain fixes because … well, because that’s what we’ve always done. And we don’t stop to notice that language trends might have changed, Or that what we always thought was a rule was really a superstition.

Here’s one of those superstitions.

The myth

Since can never be used to mean becauseSince can only be used to denote a sense of time.

  • Sample sentence: Since it was cloudy outside, I took an umbrella to work.
  • Knee-jerk editorial fix: Because it was cloudy outside, I took an umbrella to work.

The reality

Since can be used to denote either a logical connection or a sense of time. Here’s what Garner’s Modern American Usage has to say: “Despite the canard that the word [since] properly relates only to time, the causal meaning has existed continuously in the English language for more than a thousand years. In modern print sources, the causal sense is as common as the temporal sense.”

Merriam-Webster’s Concise Dictionary of English Usage concurs. The editors point out that Shakespeare himself used since in the causal sense:

Since mine own doors refuse to entertain me, I’ll knock elsewhere — The Comedy of Errors, 1593

Since it is as it is, mend it for your own good — Othello, 1605

Wait, but …

OK, on rare occasion, using since instead of because can cause confusion Take this sentence, for example:

“Since Tom met me for coffee, we’ve been dating.”

Does this mean that Tom and I have been dating ever since we met for coffee? Or that we’ve started dating because Tom finally agreed to meet me for coffee?

In these odd instances, rewording is the order of the day. For example:

  • To indicate time: “Ever since Tom and I met for coffee, we’ve been dating.”
  • To indicate causality: “Because Tom agreed to meet me for coffee, we’ve started dating.

The takeaway

Allow the use of since to mean because — except in the rare cases where it causes confusion.

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