The Grammarphobia Blog

Can “since” mean “because”?

Q: In your “disrupter”/“disruptor” post, you use the word “since” in the sense of “because.” To me, “because” indicates cause and effect, while “since” indicates time. Am I being hypercritical?

A: Yes, you’re being hypercritical. The word “since” has been used as a conjunction in the sense of “because” for hundreds of years.

Here’s an example from Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors (1593): “Since mine own doors refuse to entertain me, / I’ll knock elsewhere, to see if they’ll disdain me.”

Bryan A. Garner, one of our more traditional grammarians, says it’s a “canard that the word properly relates only to time.”

“In modern print sources, the causal sense is almost as common as the temporal sense,” he writes in Garner’s Modern American Usage (3rd ed.).

We’d caution, however, that the use of “since” for “because” can be ambiguous if both causal and temporal readings are possible.

As Pat writes in Woe Is I, her grammar and usage guide, “Just be sure the meaning can’t be confused, as in, Since we spoke, I’ve had second thoughts. In that case, since could mean either ‘from the time that’ or ‘because,’ so it’s better to be more precise.”

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage adds that “since” may be “a bit less emphatic” than “because” when used in the causal sense. Perhaps, but that’s for the writer to decide.

The word “since” has been an adverb, adjective, preposition, and conjunction since it showed up in Middle English in the 1400s, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

It had various early meanings (then, thereupon, immediately afterward, etc.) before the modern temporal and causal senses showed up in the 1500s.

The earliest “because” example in the OED is from The Comedye of Acolastus, a 1540 translation by John Palsgrave of a Latin play about the Prodigal Son by the Dutch writer Gulielmus Gnapheus: “Go to, let it be … syns it lyketh so.”

We’ll end with this example from Oliver Goldsmith’s The Vicar of Wakefield (1766):  “Then what signifies calling every moment upon the devil, and courting his friendship, since you find how scurvily he uses you?”

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