"Reason" vs. "cause" from the linguistic point of view
Thread poster: Alexandra Goldburt

Alexandra Goldburt
Local time: 06:40
English to Russian
+ ...
Aug 3, 2010

When do you use the word "reason", and when the word "cause"? Are these two words interchangeable? Or are there strict rules when to use one and when another? For example, consider the following sentences:

What are the reasons of poverty? - vs.

What are the causes of poverty?

Are both sentences correct? Do they have the same meaning?

Or how about these sentences:


What is the reason of low fertility rate in Europe? - vs.

What is the cause of low fertility rate in Europe?

I tried to google "reason vs. cause", but all the websites I found dealt with the difference from a philosophical, and not linguistic, point of view. Some of those philosophical discussions were quite enlightening, but not very helpful as a practical guide for choosing between these two words.

Your insight is appreciated.


 

Ryan Layman  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:40
Japanese to English
Reason vs. Cause Aug 3, 2010

Hi Alexandra,

The linguistic and philosophical purposes are linked. A reason, however, is usually followed by the preposition for, not of.

Generally, I find that cause tends to be the most applicable word in the context (with a more formal register) you are using. Reason also has the meaning of the act of applying logic, and when referring to one thing being the philosophical cause of something else, then cause works more frequently.

Reason can be used, but it tends to be more formal:

That's the reason I called you.


I hope this helps.

Ryan Layman

[Edited at 2010-08-03 10:18 GMT]

[Edited at 2010-08-03 13:45 GMT]


 

InfoMarex
Ireland
Local time: 14:40
Member (2008)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Reason -v- Cause Aug 3, 2010

Alexandra,

There are four different definitions of "reason" in English. Your query falls within the first definition where reason is a justification, an explanation or a cause. In your examples both words are interchangeable.

- The reason for this is your own good [justification].
- The reason for not buying the TV is that I have no money [explanation].
- The reason for your illness is that the meat was contaminated [cause].

While we can interchange "cause" in example three, in the justification and explanation examples, the use of "cause" would sound forced.

Reason in your examples does not refer to the 2nd to 4th definitions:

* My reason is sound [sanity]
* Reason suggests this is the correct course of action [i.e. what is possible, or
practical or right]
* Reason is part of the philosophical process [ability to think and consider matters].

My tuppence worth on a Tuesday morning.
Kind regards,

Michael J McCann
InfoMarex


 

Sushan Harshe
India
Local time: 19:10
English to Hindi
+ ...
Reason explains condition for; where Cause explains ground for, a situation! Aug 3, 2010

'Reason' is term that explains possible condition/s “about a” situation. Where 'cause' is a term, which explains ground “for a” situation.

Below I have tried two examples;

1] Global warming is a cause of the untimely rain. (and not reason!)

2] Heavy rain affected transportation; which "cause" cut off in train frequency, and this is the "reason" why I came late.


 

opolt  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 15:40
English to German
+ ...
Etymology Aug 3, 2010

Obviously I'm not a native E speaker and can't tell you much about the correct use in modern English, so forget about what I'm going to say right awayicon_smile.gif ... but anyway I would like to comment that sometimes it's useful have a look at the etymology:

"Reason" came in from Latin "ratio" -> Old French "raison", and one of the original Latin meanings was "computation", which is related to the "power of thinking" as found among "civilized men", etc. This still survives in "reasonable", in the verb "to reason", etc.. In some cases, it might explain why the word provides more like an a posteriori justification of a given fact or event ("I think I am able to explain why and how this happened the way it did. I can use a model of thinking and apply it to this event or fact such that it makes sense.")

"Cause", of course, came in from the Latin "causa" --> Old French "cause", and it is more related to what is perceived as a mechanism where one thing or motive (forcefully) leads to another, i.e. the so-called "cause-effect" relationship. In that sense, "cause" tends to provide an a priori explanation ("It just had to happen the way it did, X inevitably led to Y, and there was no way around that. Ripe apples always fall to the ground."). -- Personally I find this figure of thought outdated and inadequate in many cases (unless you have to describe certain kinds of natural phenomena), including in the above sample sentence about fertility. But anyway people continue to think this way and to use the word without giving much thought to it. They are just used to it.

Personally I find it most fascinating how English has incorporated all those synonyms from different languages, all with their slightly different meanings, often reminiscent of their origins... As I see it, this is one of the reasons why English can be difficult to learn as a foreign language ...


 

Adam Łobatiuk  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 15:40
Member (2009)
English to Polish
+ ...
From a Polish perspective Aug 3, 2010

Polish has pretty good direct equivalents of both "reason" and "cause". Your question made me wonder what the situation in Russian is exactly, as our languages are closely related. Well, my Rus-Pol and Pol-Rus dictionaries say that the Polish "powód" (reason) corresponds with the Russian "prichina" and "povod", while the Polish "przyczyna" (cause) has "prichina" as the only Russian equivalent. It might follow that you could use "reason" in English where "povod" works in Russian, although there is no reason to take that very seriously as it could be the cause of lexical errorsicon_wink.gif

 

Soonthon LUPKITARO(Ph.D.)  Identity Verified
Thailand
Local time: 20:40
Member (2004)
English to Thai
+ ...
A good reference for non-US/UK native speakers Aug 3, 2010

Since I am not a native English speaker, I frequently check for non-obvious word usage. Many of my translator friends and I agree that the website of "Grammar and Writing Styles" is quite helpful, even to native speakers. The link including question and answer corner is "grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/"

Best regards,
Soonthon L.


 

Lingua 5B  Identity Verified
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Local time: 15:40
German to Serbian
+ ...
Reason and cause. Aug 3, 2010

Not sure what you mean by "practical guide" nor what you mean by "philosophical discussions".. perhaps those people talked about semantics, and that's a linguistic discipline.

Reason would involve a conscious decision for something to happen/ not to happen.

Cause is more a beginning/root of a certain mechanism out of our hands or consciousness.

That's my view. Note: what I said is how notions and terms are described in monolingual dictionaries, and it's a linguistic/ semantic explanation, not a philosophical one.

[Edited at 2010-08-03 15:52 GMT]


 

Alexandra Goldburt
Local time: 06:40
English to Russian
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you for all your answers! Aug 3, 2010

Your analyzes is truly enlightening. I think I know all about reason and cause now!

A note for Adam: both "reason" and "cause" are translated into Russian as "причина" ("prichina" ). The word "повод" ("povod"), on the other hand, usually means a pretext, or an ostensible reason, as opposed to the real reason for something.

And thanks to Soonthon for the link - I'll certainly explore it!

Thank you so much to all!


 


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