Grammar Lesson of the Day: because

Grammar Lesson of the Day: because September 12, 2013

Grammar Lesson of the Day: because.

Some years ago I began to notice that my college freshmen had all gotten a very strange idea.  They had been taught that one must never begin a sentence with the word because.  I have no idea where high school teachers came up with this one.  It is like alligators in the Manhattan sewers, or aliens landing in Roswell.  Some kook huddled in a condemned building says it, and all at once everybody “knows” it, though it is not in the slightest bit true.

There’s nothing special about the word because.  It’s a subordinating conjunction, like a hundred others.  Any of them may begin a sentence – so long as it’s a sentence they are beginning.  A sentence, whether it begins with because or if or since or although or whenever or while or whatever or whatever, requires a main clause.  This is not a sentence:

Because I could not stop for death.

But it’s because it lacks a main clause.  Let Emily Dickinson supply one:

Because I could not stop for death, he kindly stopped for me.

The “rule” that the teachers have promulgated, besides being in itself utterly absurd, reveals something about all the other grammatical rules and “rules” that our students learn (or “learn”).  That is, since grammar is no longer taught systematically, as a coherent discipline that makes sense of how we make sense, it disintegrates into a set of arbitrary directives, some of them incorrect at that, each separate from the other, without rhyme or reason.  It is why I say that, unless they’ve studied Latin or German, none of my college freshmen has been taught grammar. 

In any case, why would you want to begin with because?  Well, you might want to emphasize the main clause, leaving it to the end, if that contains the idea you are going to develop.  That’s what Emily Dickinson wanted to do; she wanted to focus on Death’s stopping by to give her a ride.  But maybe you want to emphasize the material in the subordinate clause.  Then you will probably place it after the main clause:

We’re off to see the Wizard,
The wonderful Wizard of Oz!
We hear he is a whiz of a wiz
If ever a wiz there was!
If ever if ever a wiz there was
The Wizard of Oz is one because
Because because because because because —
Because of the wonderful things he does!
We’re off to see the Wizard,
The wonderful Wizard of Oz!

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