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Because, since, as
Thread poster: Katherine Zei

Katherine Zei  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 23:04
Italian to English
+ ...
Jul 15, 2003

I am making this post in the interest of clarifying a little-known grammatical difference that I see confused quite often on the Proz site.

One of the biggest grammatical errors that English (i.e. from the U.K.) people particularly make is to use the word "as" when they really mean "since" or even "because".

When the causal conjunctions "because" and "since" are used to mean "for the reason that," they are grammatically interchangeable.

"As" and "since" however are not.

Good writers avoid using "as" in the sense of "because", because it could mean different things depending on the context.

"He couldn't hear the ambulance siren as he was listening to the car radio," could mean "because" he was listening to the car radio or "during the time" he was listening. In addition to being confusing, "as" can sound stiled when used to mean "because."


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maq
Local time: 06:04
English to Swedish
+ ...
What about "since" in different contexts Jul 15, 2003

You may have a point. But to me it is a bit like saying one should not use "since" in the sense of "because", for the reason that it sometimes has another sense. Like for instance: "Since I came home, I haven´t been able to sleep". Often the context determines the sense well enough. But if you really want to avoid all possible ambiguity, then you probably should stick to "because".

Marcel


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Pawel Bartoszewicz  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:04
English to Polish
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'As' meaning 'because' or 'since' is not a grammatical error at all Jul 15, 2003

Check any English language grammar book - even a basic one will tell you it is OK to use 'as' meaning 'because' or 'since'. Try for example The Practical English Usage by Michael Swan. And it is not confusing, really.

Pawel


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Narasimhan Raghavan  Identity Verified
Local time: 09:34
English to Tamil
+ ...
I am reminded of my professor of logic Jul 15, 2003

My professor of logic had a horror of the phrase "not only ... but also". It seems he as a student was sent out of the class by his professor when he said as an example for use in sentences: "Mahatma Gandhi is not only a good man but also a bad man".
So he taught us the use of the phrase "not only ... but as well". I promptly stood up and recited: "Mahatma Gandhi is not only a good man but a bad man as well". And was sent out of the class for my pains.


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berelin
Local time: 06:04
German to English
+ ...
cultural errors Jul 15, 2003

You state that "[o]ne of the biggest grammatical errors that English (i.e. from the U.K.) people particularly make is to use the word "as" when they really mean "since" or even "because"".

Leaving aside the fact that that sentence contains an error all too frequently made by people on your side of the ocean (and indeed elsewhere)*, you are wrong to refer to use of as to show a causal relation as a "grammatical error". In fact most good grammar guides include a passage or two on its usage in this way.
However, it is generally considered "grammatically correct" to place a comma before the word as used in this way when it occurs mid-sentence (thus reducing the ambiguity)

See for example, the entry in the American heritage dictionary (the only one I could access on line, but for better discussions see e.g., Fowler's Modern English usage or the Oxford Guide to English Grammar)

"as meaning “because” or “when”
When as expresses a causal relation, it should be preceded by a comma, as in She won’t be coming, as we didn’t invite her. When as expresses a time relation, it is not preceded by a comma: She was finishing the painting as I walked into the room. When you begin a sentence with a clause that starts with as, make sure that it is clear whether as is used to mean “because” or “at the same time that.” The sentence As they were leaving, I walked to the door may mean either “I walked to the door because they were leaving” or “I walked to the door at the same time that they were leaving.”"

I quite like the word 'as' in this context and use it quite regularly - maybe because I am British. Of course, I'm also aware that it can be ambiguous (as can since) and try to avoid using it where it might give rise to confusion. As far as good style goes, sometimes the need for 'elegant variation' outweights the danger of some minimal amount of ambiguity in a text. That said, 'as' is not always ambigious. Fowler's contains the example: "He may have some, as he is a friend", you would have to try very hard to find even a smidgeon of ambiguity there.

I appreciate your desire to educate us Brits as to good style, but you should be careful that in so doing, you don't inadvertantly confirm a few of our own linguistic prejudices.

Regards

* People from England are English; people from the UK are British.


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Emma Loghin
Local time: 07:04
German to English
+ ...
As I am not totally convinced, I think I will answer Jul 15, 2003

Katherine Zei wrote:

Good writers avoid using "as" in the sense of "because", because it could mean different things depending on the context.

"He couldn't hear the ambulance siren as he was listening to the car radio," could mean "because" he was listening to the car radio or "during the time" he was listening. In addition to being confusing, "as" can sound stiled when used to mean "because."




You probably have a point, but I don't find this example sentence confusing or ambiguous at all!

I can't imagine that anybody would take 'as' here to mean 'during the time', unless it were made absolutely clear by the context.

I always thought that 'as' usually appeared at the beginning of sentences, as/because/since it sometimes sounds better than, or at least as good as, 'because':

As I was rather busy today I didn't have time to feed the cat.

(As I am not a cat-hater I do normally feed my cat)


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Spencer Allman
United Kingdom
Local time: 05:04
Finnish to English
Oh dear Jul 16, 2003

Nothing wrong with'as' meaning 'because' as (since, because) 'because' has sometimes to be avoided in formal contexts (unless it starts a sentence).

The car radio example is duff (ye olde UK word)

Anyway, sorry


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HRiley  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:04
Spanish to English
+ ...
Berelin's spot on Jul 16, 2003

As Berelin so eloquently puts it, there's no reason why "as" should be ambiguous if used correctly and carefully in an appropriate context.

Ambiguity is an unavoidable characteristic of many (if not all) languages. Just think - without ambiguity in language, there'd be hardly any work for us human translators - the computers would be able to do it all !!


[Edited at 2003-07-16 14:32]


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Katherine Zei  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 23:04
Italian to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Interesting debate Jul 16, 2003

Pawel Bartoszewicz wrote:

Check any English language grammar book - even a basic one will tell you it is OK to use 'as' meaning 'because' or 'since'. Try for example The Practical English Usage by Michael Swan. And it is not confusing, really.

Pawel


I thank Pawel for the advice. There are many different grammar books around; your English seems so advanced that suggest you start reading style and usage guides.

Many grammar books will tell you that it is OK to use "as" when one means "since"; and yes, it is OK. But to be grammatically correct sometimes is not enough: OK is one thing; good is another. Have you ever seen the N.Y. Public Library's Writer's Guide to Style and Usage (Harper Collins)? It goes a few steps further than simple grammar and takes you into territory that many native English speakers fear to tred.


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Katherine Zei  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 23:04
Italian to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Colons, semi-colons and dashes a good alternative Jul 16, 2003

berelin wrote:

Leaving aside the fact that that sentence contains an error all too frequently made by people on your side of the ocean (and indeed elsewhere)*, you are wrong to refer to use of as to show a causal relation as a "grammatical error".

I quite like the word 'as' in this context and use it quite regularly - maybe because I am British.

I appreciate your desire to educate us Brits as to good style, but you should be careful that in so doing, you don't inadvertantly confirm a few of our own linguistic prejudices.

* People from England are English; people from the UK are British.




I obviously got off on the wrong foot by stating that this is a grammatical error--it is a stylistic ambiguity, and one that I've seen quite often on this site. Thank you for pointing out my glaring “cultural error”. I guess I was a tad too concentrated on the linguistic aspect of the post, and assumed that anyone reading would clearly be able to see what I meant, "inadvertantly" [sic] or otherwise.

On the positive side, this incited many to make posts showing me the error of my ways: It's the first time I have gotten more than one or two posts in reply.

I don't like at all to read "as" or even "since"--I am a big fan of semi-colons, colons, and the ever-useful em- and en-dash--and both options actually sound stilted to me. Perhaps it is because I am neither English, nor even vaguely British. But I don't think it has to do with being Canadian, because Canadians tend use "as" in both the traditionally British manner and in the "American" way. It could just be that I have seen this particular misuse once too often while copy-editing, and both words now rile me.

Often I feel it is better to re-write the phrase. I would have edited Fowler’s example like so (as such): "He may have some; he is a friend.” Colons, semi-colons, and em- and en-dashes are little-understood tools that can improve a text substantially, but being little understood are often avoided, much to the dismay of copy-editors everywhere.

Getting back off-topic...
Please do not put words in my mouth; I have no desire to educate "you Brits" regarding good style--native English speakers usually know well enough already. I’m here for the ESL translators. And, like Pawel Bartoszewicz made clear, they are here for me as well!

Ciao,
KZ


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Katherine Zei  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 23:04
Italian to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Ambiguity not quite what it seems... Jul 16, 2003

HRiley wrote:

Ambiguity is an unavoidable characteristic of many (if not all) languages. Just think - without ambiguity in language, there'd be hardly any work for us human translators - the computers would be able to do it all !!


[Edited at 2003-07-16 14:32]


I disagree. In fields such as medicine (i.e. dosage instructions), banking (i.e. equity reports), and manufacturing (i.e. instruction booklets) there is little or no room for ambiguity. Strong writers make sure the ambiguity is edited out of their texts. Precision is of the utmost importance, and sometimes even a matter of life or death. Even so, computers have little to do with it. I think you're mistaking ambiguity for interpretation, which leads me to digress...

From A Grammar of the English Language (1833), William Cobbett

"The actions of men proceed from their thoughts. In order to obtain the co-operation, the concurrence, or the consent of others, we must communicate our thoughts to them. The means of communication are words; and grammar teaches us how to make use of words.

Therefore, in all the ranks, degrees, and situations of life, a knowledge of the principles and rules of grammar must be useful; in some situations it must be necessary to the avoiding of really injurious errors...

...Grammar, perfectly understood, enables us not only to express our meaning fully and clearly, but so to express it as to enable us to defy the ingenuity of man to give our words any other meaning than that which we ourselves intend to express. This, therefore, is a science of substantial utility."


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Maria Diaz
United States
Local time: 21:04
English to Spanish
What about "for" ? Jul 16, 2003

I'm so glad this issue is being discussed as I'm not a native English speaker, and I've always had doubts in the use of "as/because". I've also heard people use the word "for", meaning "because".

Please enlighten me, thank you.


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HRiley  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:04
Spanish to English
+ ...
I agree, to an extent... Jul 17, 2003

Katherine Zei wrote:

I disagree. In fields such as medicine (i.e. dosage instructions), banking (i.e. equity reports), and manufacturing (i.e. instruction booklets) there is little or no room for ambiguity. Strong writers make sure the ambiguity is edited out of their texts. Precision is of the utmost importance, and sometimes even a matter of life or death. Even so, computers have little to do with it.



I agree that precision is important, especially in certain scientific, legal or medical fields.

But I think you may have misinterpreted my (lighthearted) comment as being a serious one!! *

My point was simply that ambiguity exists in language and our job often involves untangling such ambiguity in the words we translate.

I'd love to be able to edit the source texts I translate and send them back to the client with instructions on how to write properly, but I'm afraid I'd not have many clients left after a while.

* Usually a icon implies that a statement is meant to be humorous


[Edited at 2003-07-17 09:35]


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Katherine Zei  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 23:04
Italian to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Can you give me an example? Jul 17, 2003

drspanish wrote:

I'm so glad this issue is being discussed as I'm not a native English speaker, and I've always had doubts in the use of "as/because". I've also heard people use the word "for", meaning "because".

Please enlighten me, thank you.


Do you mean in a phrase like: "I cannot buy a car, for I am broke?"

Good question! My impression is that it is a slightly archaic form, and I try to avoid it. Personally, I think it's awkward and sounds like the author is trying to sound "posh", but maybe that's just me.

Let me look into the grammatical viability of it. I am loath to say it's a "grammatical error", seeing as how I stuck my foot in my mouth the first time!


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Katherine Zei  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 23:04
Italian to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks for that Jul 17, 2003

HRiley wrote:

* Usually a icon implies that one is not really serious


... I might not have an MSc in translating, but I think I can handle interpreting a smiley face!!! (p.s. mes compliments!)

HRiley wrote:

My point was simply that ambiguity exists in language and our job often involves untangling such ambiguity in the words we translate.

I'd love to be able to edit the source texts I translate and send them back to the client with instructions on how to write properly, but I'm afraid I'd not have many clients left after a while.


Sorry if I misunderstood, but the phrase "Ambiguity is an unavoidable characteristic of many (if not all) languages,” seemed like a great big fallacy, and didn't seem like it had much to do with your first point that I included above. Didn't seem very light-hearted either, but anyways...

As to your second point: Good for you. I usually ignore the mistakes in the source text and just try to understand the exact meaning the author is attempting (usually with varying degrees of success) to convey. I don't care if they make lots of mistakes; I just have to fully understand what I'm reading.

But in my texts, i.e. my translations, I try to make sure that that ambiguity is longer there, and that I am conveying exactly what the author originally meant--but in English. Of course, no one is perfect; we all make mistakes, etc. etc.; and I wish I had my own personal copy editor.

I edited this post because ironically enough I spelt "copy editor" with a hyphen...


[Edited at 2003-07-17 11:54]


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