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I am correcting a document and was told that I have to put a comma before every occurrence of “because” mid-sentence.

Example:

This might be because another algorithm was chosen.

The corrector remarked that I ought to place a comma in this sentence: This might be, because another algorithm was chosen.

Can you explain the rules for placing commas in sentences with “because”?

closed as too broad by tchrist, Ronan, user66974, FumbleFingers, dwjohnston Aug 13 '14 at 22:07

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    You need to provide more context around your sentence. It is perfectly correct both with and without a comma, but the two versions mean different things. It is impossible to tell without seeing the context which meaning is intended. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 13 '14 at 10:20
  • @JanusBahsJacquet thanks for your comment. I could post more context, but that would not help my general understanding. – Ingo Aug 13 '14 at 11:27
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    Try these: I can see her bike is rusty, because she leaves it outside. [the subordinate clause explains how I come by the knowledge] // I can see her bike is rusty because she leaves it outside. [the subordinate clause gives the reason for the bike's condition] – Edwin Ashworth Aug 13 '14 at 16:34
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There's a subtle difference in meaning with and without the comma. There is certainly no rule to put a comma before every "because", because the same sentence can be correct both with and without comma, with different meaning.

"This might be because another algorithm was chosen." The software was twice as fast as expected. We don't know exactly why this is yet, it might have to do with data that is easier to handle than expected, but it also might be due to a different choice of algorithm.

"This might be, because another algorithm was chosen." There is a claim that the software is faster as expected. I haven't verified the claim so I can't say whether it is true or not, but it is a possibility, due to a different choice of algorithm, which might have improved the speed.

In the example mentioned “A minority of Romanians speak English because it was outlawed under Ceaucescu”, without comma it means "the reason why these people speak English is resistance against Ceaucescu's rule", with comma it means "the reason why the English speakers are a minority is fear of Ceaucescu's rule". Take “The majority of Swiss speak English because it is taught at school from an early age”. Without comma: "They learn English because it is taught at school, not because they are actually interested in the language". With comma "The reason why so many speak English is the school system".

In these cases, "because" with a comma tends to refer to everything before that comma. "Because" without a comma tends to refer to the last independent item before because. Except that lovely rule doesn't apply to the original example!

4

No, you don't need to put a comma before every instance of because.

In the context of your question, a comma is used to separate two independent clauses joined by a co-ordinating conjunction (and, but, for, or, nor, so, yet) which may be where your corrector is getting the idea that because too should have a comma.

Other uses for commas are to set off parenthetical clauses (The man, who was French, smiled), separate items of a series (one, two, three), separate contrasting elements (It was hot, but cloudy), or after an introductory clause (Being nervous, the boy hesitated).

2

You don't need a comma at every occurrence of "because". There may be other scenarios, but generally you almost always need a comma when trying to establish a cause-effect relationship using 'because' and you start the sentence with negation.

Also, there are some instances where you don't want a comma before 'because' so don't blindly follow that rule either!

To answer your question, let's consider this example,

I wouldn't go to London because of the weather.

Sounds obvious right? Yes, in vernacular it sounds like the speaker wants you to avoid London because of its weather, but wait! By not putting the comma, you're leaving the statement ambiguous.

As someone who loves London, I can misconstrue the sentence to mean that you would go to London, but weather is not a reason why. In other words, I could suppose what you really meant was:

I wouldn't go to London because of the weather(, instead I would go to London for other reasons)
vs.
I wouldn't go to London, because of the weather.

The use of 'because' in the first sentence above excludes the succeeding clause (the weather) as a reason for why the initial clause is true (going to London).

If you're trying to establish cause and effect between the clause preceding "because", and the clause succeeding "because", it's good practice to use a comma.

So, to answer your question, yes the correct form for what you're trying to write is:

This might be, because another algorithm was chosen.

For further reference, you can consult this excellent article I found in a peripheral search of Google that provides an excellent summary of when to, and when not to use a comma preceding 'because'.

  • Whether the first part of the sentence is negative is completely irrelevant. And the asker’s sentence works far better without a comma, unless the intended meaning is “Because a different algorithm was chosen, this is a possibility”. If, as seems most likely without access to the context, it is supposed to mean “This might be caused by the choosing of a different algorithm”, then there should be no comma. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 13 '14 at 10:18
  • @JanusBahsJacquet Did you have to chance to read the reference I posted at the end of my answer? – K - Aug 13 '14 at 10:20
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    Yes, I did. The ambiguity mentioned there is inherent. It does not hinge on anything being negative: “A minority of Romanians speak English because it was outlawed under Ceaucescu” has no negating items in it, for example, but is still as ambiguous. A much more useful rule of thumb is that you are safe adding a comma if you can switch the order of the clauses without changing the meaning, but not if you can't. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 13 '14 at 10:29
  • I agree, but the OP's question is to help him or her understand when it's absolutely necessary (i.e. rule) to place a comma preceding 'because'. For example, if I consider the sentence from that article, "We’re off to see the wizard because of the wonderful things he does", I can safely switch the order of the clauses without changing the meaning, but a comma there is not necessary. You almost always need a comma if you start the sentence with a negative, but there are other examples, like that of the Romanians wherein you would also need a comma. Sorry what am I missing here? – K - Aug 13 '14 at 10:40
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    Without comma: "A minority of Romanians were so annoyed with Ceaucescu that they learned to speak English, just to defy his rule that outlawed it" vs. with comma "Ceaucescu outlawed learning to speak English, so only a fearless minority of Romanians can now speak English". – gnasher729 Aug 13 '14 at 13:32

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