Zombie rules are grammar rules that follow you around like the undead. They’re not really grammar rules, though. Some are stylistic choices, while others are made-up nonsense to make English work more like Latin. In this series, you’ll learn why the rules don’t work and what rule you can follow instead.
Zombie Rule: Don’t Use Since to Mean Because.
According to this zombie rule, since refers to time; it can’t mean “for the reason that.” We should use because instead. Outlawed are sentences like:
Since you like chocolate cake, I’ll bake you one.
Yet since has continuously been used to mean “because” since 1540. I’m stumped as to who first outlawed this usage, because most of my reference works state how false this rule is. The rule keeps perpetuating, though, despite our best efforts.
There are some ground rules for using since to mean “because,” however.
Avoid a Misreading
The most important is to be careful of a possible confusion between the “because” since and the time since:
Since Sean went outside, I’ve been on the phone.
Does the sentence mean that I’ve been on the phone from the time Sean went outside or because Sean went out? If you mean because and your reader might pick up the time meaning with since, you are better off using because.
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Avoid It in Formal Writing
Although the because meaning predates Shakespeare, these days we tend to reserve it for casual writing. The more formal your writing, the less you want to use casual usage. You may want to keep since out of academic writing, for example.
Choose Because for Stronger Emphasis
Finally, people seem to find because more emphatic and since less so. If you want to emphasize the reason strongly, go with because.
Use since to mean “because” in casual writing when readers won’t mistake it for a time meaning and when a stronger emphasis isn’t needed.
A version of this article was originally published on June 10, 2013, at Visual Thesaurus.