Just because …

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I recently received an email asking if it was ever OK to begin a sentence with the word “because”. It’s definitely one of those words, like “and”, that people are reluctant to use at the start of sentences following years of tellings-off from dogmatic grammar teachers. The emailer also asked if, having decided that you were going to use a conjunction at the start of a sentence, “as” was preferable to “because”.

I prefer “because”. Because The Economist’s Style Guide doesn’t mention this, I referred him to a higher authority, Emily Dickinson. The literary aficionados among you will know her poem Death and its famous opening lines:

“Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;”

If it’s good enough for Emily, it’s good enough for me. She chose “because” because it had two syllables and kept the meter of the poem. That said, she was writing poetry, not letters about mortgages, so here’s my explanation of why you should use “Because” and not “As”.

Compare the following:

“As I was starting to feel sick, I decided not to go to work today.”

and

“As I was starting to feel sick, a knock came at the door.”

In the first sentence, the second half is directly related to the first half. It’s the reason that I decided not to go to work. In the second sentence, however, the first half is just setting the scene for what happened afterwards. Because “because” is never used in that second sense, it avoids any confusion the reader might feel about scene-setting.

I admit that we generally prefer short words to long ones, and “as” has that on its side; but because it has more meanings, “as” can actually create more confusion than the straightforward “because”.

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