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why or because
How can I explain the difference?
Topic Rating: 0 (0 votes) 
2013/04/25
7:27pm
kbielski
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I teach English as a Second Language and I like to be able to explain the grammar behind our speech to my students.  Today I was stumped.

We had the sentence, “That is why they are frustrated.”

A student asked, “Shouldn't it be, ‘That is because they are frustrated'?”

 

I've given them a simple rule: ‘why' is the question word; ‘because' is the answer or reason.

This is especially important for the Hispanics who have basically the same word for ‘why' and ‘because'.  They need to know when to use which one.  The examples I gave are:

 

He ate a big breakfast.  That is why he is not hungry.

He didn't eat a big breakfast.  That is because he is not hungry.

 

And if we switch the words ‘why' and ‘because' in these examples, they don't make sense, although both mean “the reason”.

They wanted to know why it doesn't make sense.  But I can't explain the grammar behind it.  What is it?

2013/04/25
9:50pm
RobertB
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The nation counts on you, Berevered Teacher, and welcome to the Forum.
 
In this case grammar will not have much to say to illuminate matter, as it often does not.  For instance grammar will nod its head ok to even nonsense like this : 'Roses are red; that is why and because and how grass hoppers are green.'
 
The key is to identify which part is the cause, which the result.  To that end,  it should help to examine how the 2 parts work together when stitched back into a single sentence:
 
    He is not hungry because he ate a big breakfast.
    He didn't eat a big breakfast because he was not that hungry.
 
A source of confusion is the confused present and past tenses in the original example:
    He didn't eat a big breakfast.  That is because he is not hungry.
The cause (he was not hungry) should happen before (or at least bear the same tense as the result (He didn't eat).
2013/04/26
5:17am
Glenn
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Grammar may yet be of some service to you here. The type of clause found in your example, “That is why they are frustrated,” is called a nominal relative clause. Nominal relative clauses are a special case of a relative clause. They are a relative clause in that they contain a subordinate sentence (“they are frustrated”).

In a nominal relative, as the name suggests, the relative clause as a whole functions as a noun (nominal = noun) in the main sentence. “X is Y”

Now compare this sentence, which contains a standard relative clause: "This is the reason why they are frustrated." In this case, the relative word why has an antecedent the reason. This brings us to the special quality of the nominal relative clause. The relative word is fused with the antecedent. A nominal relative requires no antecedent.

There are several relative words that can form nominal relatives:
why • what • when • where • how • (and rarely) who and whom
And also the –ever versions: whatever, whenever, whoever, whichever, wherever.

These nominal relatives can function easily as the subject or the object of sentences.
Why he chose Linguistics as a major is a mystery to me.
I was never able to figure out why she didn't accept my invitation.
What he had for dinner cost $75.
You will never guess what Pat said about Chris.
When you get there is irrelevant.
I will know when she gets engaged.
Where he settled later became a tourist mecca.
I told him where she went.
The police never discovered how the window was broken.
How she became CEO is truly an inspirational story.
Who(ever) finds the key will win the prize.
I will kiss who(m)(ever) I want.

Here is a link to a brief ESL discussion of this topic:
Nominal Relatives for ESL

2013/04/26
7:33am
Glenn
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He ate a big breakfast. That is why he is not hungry.
He didn't eat a big breakfast. That is because he is not hungry.

While both why and because have to do with explaining reasons, the relationship between the two related parts is reversed. The order is very important. In a sentence of the form "A is because B", B causes (or at least explains) A; in "A is why B", A causes (or explains) B. Using your words, you might say "A is why B" means A "is the reason for" B; but with "A is because B" B "is the reason for" A.

It is not unlike Pat hit Chris vs. Chris hit Pat. In these sentences the order is very important. Reversing the order reverses the meaning.

In both example situations "he is not hungry" is a subordinate clause. In the first example, it is part of a nominal relative. In the second example, it is part of a subordinate clause introduced by the subordinating conjunction because.

In the first example, the eating explains the current lack of hunger. In the second example, the lack of hunger explains the failure to eat.

You have the option of rewriting both examples in both ways:
He ate a big breakfast. That is why he is not hungry.
He ate a big breakfast. He's not hungry because of that.
He's not hungry. That's because he ate a big breakfast.
(or He's not hungry because he ate a big breakfast.)

He didn't eat a big breakfast. That is because he is not hungry. (or He didn't eat a big breakfast because he is not hungry.)
He's not hungry. He didn't eat a big breakfast because of that.
He's not hungry. That why he didn't eat a big breakfast.

2013/04/27
2:14am
RobertB
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He's not hungry. That's why he didn't eat a big breakfast.

As a teaching tool, that last example is not ideal, because ‘big' is extraneous- it is not a concept necessarily to follow ‘hungry.'    These, without ‘big,' are much better:

      He was not hungry. That was why he didn't have breakfast.
      He was not hungry. That was why he had only a light breakfast.

In one of the other examples though, where 'big' takes the 'lead', it clearly has an important role to play, if not indispensable:

      He ate a big breakfast. That is why he is not hungry.

So grammar and syntax are not enough to ensure ‘clean cut' examples that will not distract or even confuse the learners.

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