Make Your Editor Cry: Because I Said So

Make Your Editor Cry:  Because I Said So

Grammar teachers across these United States of America, please don’t hate me. I’m about to expose a fallacy you’ve taught as truth for years.

(Ahem) It’s not poor grammar to start a sentence with the word “Because.”

That’s right, there’s neither rule nor law in English grammar that proscribes beginning a sentence with this particular subordinating conjunction.

First of all, “Because” can be part of the compound preposition “Because of,” and this compound preposition can begin a sentence without any red flags at all.

Example:

Because of weakening revenues, we were forced to implement a number of cost-cutting measures.
Because of rising fuel costs, we converted our fleet to hybrid vehicles.

Fine and good, but just by itself, it is perfectly legitimate to begin a periodic sentence with the single subordinate conjunction “Because.”

Note: A subordinate conjunction usually connects two clauses—a subordinate clause and a main clause. A periodic sentence is one that begins with one or more subordinate clauses or prepositional phrases.

It is also perfectly legitimate to begin a sentence with a subordinate clause that starts with the subordinating conjunction “Because.”

Examples (not in italics):

I sold some of my plasma because I needed money. (becomes…)
Because I needed money, I sold some of my plasma.
I’m reading about starting sentences because I’m a little confused. (becomes…)
Because I’m a little confused, I’m reading about starting sentences.

In these examples, while “I needed money” and “I’m a little confused” are clearly the subordinate clauses, you don’t shatter any universal constants by transposing the subordinate clause with the main clause and beginning the sentence with the subordinate conjunction “Because.” Either example is perfectly correct. In fact, an argument could be made that placing the subordinate clause at the beginning of the sentence makes the sentence more clear and immediate.

Given these perfectly valid examples, why do grammar teachers continue to parade out this nonexistent rule about never beginning a sentence with “Because,” to our innocent youth? Because (See what I did there? We’ll get to that.) they want to prevent our future scholars, leaders, and best-selling authors from writing any sentence fragments.

If you have children, you know kids often tend to write sentence fragments like “Because I needed money,” or “Because I’m a little confused.” It’s purely my opinion but I think it would be more correct to teach students to just complete their sentences instead of telling them starting sentences with “Because” is against some non-existent rule. But I’m not a grade-school educator and I have no experience with what may (or may not) be involved in actually educating children concerning the intricacies of our language. It does make for a nice segue, though.

There is actually one more context where it is both common and even generally acceptable to begin a sentence with “Because.” Though it pains me to admit it and commit this to writing, that case is as the first word of an intentional sentence fragment.

What? As a fragment? It is a well-known FACT that FRAGMENTS are against the rules you FOOL!

Take it easy. Basically, there are FRAGMENTS, and then there are, well, fragments. The first kind of fragment, which is rightly excoriated, goes by many names. It is the unintentional, uninformed, or accidental fragment. Because this happens so often (Did you see that?), let’s cut to the chase.

Examples:

Because the new head-turning performance of the Chevrolet Corvette speeding down the highway next fall.
Because English has a way of bending the rules and ignoring.

You should not write these kinds of sentence fragments at all, with or without the leading “Because.”

The second kind of fragment is the intentional (or informed) fragment. There are a couple of sub-types. There’s the elliptical fragment that may be just about any grammatical construction—including an adverbial subordinate clause—and serves as the answer to a preceding question.

Elliptical Fragment Examples (fragment not italicized):

Who’s that woman? Natasha, our new sales rep for the people’s republic of California.
Are you ready yet? Yes.
Are you here on business or pleasure? Business.

The second sub-type of intentional fragment is a rhetorical construction in which a sentence is extended, but the extension is presented as a new sentence, usually to emphasize a point or provide some additional context or subtext.

Rhetorical Construction Examples (fragment not italicized):

Every morning for 67 years he would read his Bible for 30 minutes. Every morning for 67 years.
Boris would never admit how he really felt about Natasha. Especially since she had married Bullwinkle Moose.

The elliptical fragment occurs naturally in dialogue, letters, emails, text messages, transcripts, alongside rhetorical questions, or really anywhere an informal conversational style is appropriate. The rhetorical construction fragment calls more attention to itself but, strictly speaking, is not an error either. Neither are commonly visible in formal narrative but they sometimes do occur, kind of like an unwanted pimple on one’s otherwise perfect skin.

Both intentional fragment forms can also begin with “Because.”

Examples:

We plan to supplement customer support staff by 15%. Why? Because customer satisfaction is our top priority. (elliptical)
He headed up the longest and bloodiest regime in the history of Southeast Asia. Because the rest of the world looked the other way. (rhetorical)

One final note.

This was a difficult article for me to write. The “editor” in me has a serious aversion to any kind of fragments, intentional or not, especially in the narrative text. Inside of dialogue, just about anything goes and I’m cool with that. In the narrative text, not so much. I can live with fragments in moderation, like I can live with small doses of poison, and yes they both make me a little bit sick. Generally, I recommend avoiding the use any fragments in the narrative text if you possibly can.

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