4 Comments

The Lost Because

I have a proofreader who corrects every “because of” to “as a result of,” and I’d like to know if she just hates “because of” or if there is a some rule I’m unaware of.

For example, “Overall, oil services’ operating margins will likely contract as a result of reduction in available rigs.”

Would “because of” work just fine here?

–Kelly-Lynne

My first reaction when I saw your question was that your proofreader had fallen for some grammatical hokum somewhere along the line. But hey, I’ve been mistaken before, and it worried me that I couldn’t think of what fake rule your proofreader might be trying to follow. So before I pronounced on anything, I consulted some reference books.

None of the books I checked mentioned “as a result of” at all, which already bodes poorly for your proofreader, and the usage section of the Chicago Manual of Style 15th doesn’t mention because or because of either, which suggests there’s no complex secret rule that you and I are ignorant of.

And the books that did offer some explanation don’t really seem to help your proofreader’s case either.

  • AP Stylebook (2012): “Use because to denote a specific cause-effect relationship. ‘He went because he was told.'”
  • Garner’s Modern American Usage (3rd edition): “The conjunction because ordinarily begins a dependent clause that expresses reason, cause, or motive for whatever appears in the main clause.
  • Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary definition of “because of”: “by reason of; on account of”

So far, so good for you. You’re describing a cause-and-effect relationship, which all three sources say is the proper use. But it wasn’t until I went to the last book on my frequently-referenced list that I found something really interesting:

  • Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage: “Someone—we do not know precisely who—decided that because could only be used to introduce an adverbial clause; it could not introduce a noun clause. The rule was devised, presumably, for the purpose of denouncing the phrase the reason is because. However, because had all along been used to introduce noun clauses, even in sentences where the word reason did not occur.

Aha! I think this is exactly the bit of hokum to which your proofreader fell prey. I bet they’re changing your because of when it shows up in front of nouns because of this half-remembered fake rule from freshman comp.

At least, I hope that’s the case, because the only other reasons I can think of are even sillier. Do they think because is too casual? That’s bogus; because is used in all registers of writing. Do they think you can’t use because with of? That construction is so common it has its own Merriam-Webster’s entry, as we saw above.

So my advice is to ask your proofreader why they keep changing this construction. Maybe they’ll tell you something interesting, but more likely they’ll tell you something that’s obviously nonsense. In that case, you can refer them to an authority that explains their error and ask them to have a lighter touch on because of in the future.

Bonus advice: It’s totally fine to start a sentence with because, so long as you make sure it’s not a sentence fragment.

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4 comments on “The Lost Because

  1. That’s bizarre. I’ve never heard of an objection to “because of” before. If anything, I would have guessed that a peeve would run in the opposite direction.

  2. Maybe the proofreader was mixing this up with “due to,” which is often used incorrectly. I was taught to allow “due to” only when “attributable to” can be substituted. So, you could say “The game’s delay was due to rain” but not “The game was delayed due to rain.” (Or is that one hokum too? I’m too lazy to pull out my reference books, and yours are right there, so handy….)

    • You know, that was the only theory I could come up with when I first got this letter, and I think it’s still a good candidate. I’d be interested to hear what the the proofreader says, if Kelly-Lynne sends me a followup.

      Garner, who I think is exactly the right amount of (linguistically) conservative for a usage writer, says that “due to” meaning “because of” (rather than “attributable to”) is ubiquitous but still occasionally objected to. He also notes that writers may want to avoid even the correct usage because it’s often clunky. Personally, I only bother worrying about “due to” when writing or editing for an exceptionally picky audience.

      By the way, anyone who hasn’t sprung for the new 3rd edition of Garner’s yet really should. The language-change index alone is worth the price.

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