In his recent book, The Sense of Style, Steven Pinker explains permissible uses of commas and writes this sentence

And when the writer pinpoints the coherence relation he has in mind with an explicit connective such as a coordinator (and, or, *but, yet, so, nor) or a preposition (although, except, if, before, after, because, for), a comma is fine …

(p. 292)

I understand before and after can be prepositions. However, I can't find a reference that because is a preposition. The OED lists senses as an adverb, a conjunction, and a noun. Why has Pinker said that these are prepositions? Pinker is a serious linguist, so I don't regard even the OED's entry as an absolute refutation, but he seems to be on his own here.

  • I think you really mean Pinker is a "serious linguist".
    – Erik Kowal
    Jan 31, 2015 at 10:12
  • The usual position is that they're subordinators (in the senses I assume you mean), as many sources (eg Roane State Community College) state. Jan 31, 2015 at 11:25
  • 2
    I think the basic idea is from Otto Jespersen -- the things called subordinate conjunctions in traditional grammar are really just prepositions that are peculiar in taking sentence complements rather than the familiar nominal complements. I don't recall Jespersen's reasoning. You might find a specific reference in McCawley's The Syntactic Phenomena of English.
    – Greg Lee
    Jan 31, 2015 at 14:13
  • @Greg Lee I rarely find myself in the position of feeling I must advocate a traditional grammar stance. Rarely, but not never. Jan 31, 2015 at 15:29
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    Since I didn't say what Jespersen's argument was, I can't figure out how John knows it's pointless. I don't think investigating the syntactic properties of the various categories is a pointless activity.
    – Greg Lee
    Jan 31, 2015 at 17:09

1 Answer 1


On page 310 of The Sense of Style Pinker states:

The terminology and analyses in this book are based on The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (Huddleston & Pullum, 2002).

On page 1011 of The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language Huddleston introduces the lengthy analysis that leads him to designating as prepositions what in traditional grammar would be called conjunctions, among them although, while, after and because:

The analysis of content clauses presented in this chapter differs in significant ways from that found in traditional grammar.

Co-author Pullum has written an entry for Language Log in which he explains the rationale for regarding because as a preposition. It includes the following extract:

So what should we say about because? Contrary to all the dictionaries, it is a preposition. As its complement (the phrase that follows it to complete the PP) it may take either a clause (as in the PP because he holds ridiculous beliefs) or a PP with of as its head (as in the PP because of our public universities). Some prepositions can occur with no complement (as in We went in), some require an NP (as of does) some require a clause (as although does), and some require a PP (like out in those uses that do not involve exiting from delimited regions of space: notice that They did it out of ignorance is grammatical but They did it out ignorance is not).

So, in summary, Pinker is following the CGEL in listing although, except, if, before, after, because, for as prepositions.

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    The French wisely have parce que for the subordinator because, and à cause de for the multi-word preposition because of. Jan 31, 2015 at 11:59
  • @EdwinAshworth. And German has weil/da for the subordinator because and wegen for the preposition because of. As an aside, I find the CGEL analysis interesting and fairly persuasive, but until the rest of the linguistic world (dictionaries and pedagogic grammars, for example) catch up - if they ever do - then we are going to have questions such as the one above.
    – Shoe
    Jan 31, 2015 at 18:13
  • There are strong arguments against the lumping of say around in We arrived at the edge of the lake and walked around and because in He went to Paris because he believed she was there in the preposition class. I find the CGEL analysis interesting but unpersuasive. Jan 31, 2015 at 22:30
  • @EdwinAshworth Nice to see one of your less dogmatic and aggressive comments regarding this issue. Jun 23, 2017 at 22:16
  • @Araucaria Man Nice to be able to consider that's what's required. Jun 23, 2017 at 23:00

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