English language Uncategorized

Just because you’re you

Q: I see sentences like this all the time: “Just because you’re a millionaire doesn’t mean you can win the election.” I feel that arrangement is wrong. Do you agree?

A: The sentence you mention is an example of a very common idiomatic construction. What’s at issue is whether the clause “Just because you’re a millionaire” can legitimately be the subject of a sentence.

There’s a rather stuffy old prohibition to the effect that it can’t. Why? Because (or so goes the “rule”) a clause starting with “because” can’t be a subject. But in fact subject clauses beginning with “because” or “just because” are extremely common in both conversational and written English.

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.) calls this “perfectly acceptable,” but notes that it carries a “colloquial flavor.” Linguists studying this phenomenon have named it the “JBX-DMY” construction (for “Just because X … doesn’t mean Y”).

I found an interesting research paper on the subject by a pair of academics at the University of California at Berkeley. (You might want to jump to the “conclusion” section.)

The short answer to your question is yes, the construction is acceptable. But in writing (particularly formal writing), I might opt for the more straightforward construction: “The fact that X … doesn’t mean Y.” (Or even “Just because X …, that doesn’t mean Y.” The addition of the relative pronoun “that” seems to make the construction less offensive to more sensitive ears.)

I hope this sheds a little light. It’s a very interesting question!

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