Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: since.

since.

This subordinating conjunction may bear a sense either of time or of logical connection. Despite the canard that the word properly relates only to time, the causal meaning has existed continuously in the English language for more than a thousand years. In modern print sources, the causal sense is almost as common as the temporal sense. Typically, “since” expresses a milder sense of causation than “because” does — e.g.:

o “Since the normal teaching load at L.S.U. was then 12 hours, this arrangement meant that we taught three courses in addition to our editorial work.” Cleanth Brooks, “The Life and Death of an Academic Journal,” in The Art of Literary Publishing 97 (Bill Henderson ed., 1995).

o “Since it’s hard for the IRS to find all the taxpayers using these shelters, it wants promoters to rat them out.” Janet Novack, “Client Beware,” Forbes, 12 Aug. 2002, at 48.

o “[This] is, of course, nonsense — especially since some companies spend billions of dollars a year buying back shares to keep options dilution from affecting earnings per share.” Justin Fox, “The Only Option,” Fortune, 12 Aug. 2002, at 110.

Be careful, though, of starting a sentence with “since” and then using a past-tense construction, which can lead to ambiguity — e.g.: “Since Memphis exposed Louisville’s main weaknesses . . . in a humbling loss for the Cardinals at Freedom Hall, the Cards have struggled.” Mike Strange, “Selection Sunday Conference-by-Conference Breakdowns,” Sporting News, 17 Mar. 2003, at 21. The reader wonders, at least momentarily, whether the Cards have struggled because of the upset or just after the upset.

For information about the Language-Change Index click here.

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Quotation of the Day: “A speaker or writer cannot be too careful to make evident the relation between a participle and the word it modifies.” Carolyn M. Garrish & Margaret Cunningham, Practical English Composition 200 (1912).

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