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Have a look at this sentence:

'We finance better housing for our customers, by helping turn their houses into homes.'

Does 'by' in this sentence only indicate that the logical cause and effect is out of place? That first we help, then we finance? (usage of the gerund, first clause deems to be the first action, usage of the preposition 'by'). Therefore the sentence would be constructed: 'By financing..., we help turn...'.

However, does the sentence sound correct to you? In that 'we finance... by helping turn', the 'by' is a synonym of 'and in doing this' (we help turn...), showing that financing helps transform their lives, facilitating help via financing without need to change the syntax?

In the end, the answer is in the syntax. The linear L-R cause / effect sentence would be coherent in replacing 'by helping' with 'to help': 'We finance better housing for our customers to help turn their houses into homes'.

Also 'by' can be kept and the cause / effect understood R-L when you see the word 'better' as key. Being a comparative, it compares the established experience of helping, the comparative should indicate progress up to and after a main verb in the present tense e.g.: 'We serve better our users by helping understand them'. Hence grammatically 'We finance better (the) housing for our customers, by helping turn their houses into homes.' Thanks for all the input.

  • As written, the by PP functions as a 'means' adjunct. It gives the means by which better housing for our customers is financed. Whatever that means! – BillJ Nov 30 '17 at 14:48
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    I propose that your sentence is backward, and that you help turn houses into homes by financing, not the other way around. – Davo Nov 30 '17 at 14:50
  • The ‘by’ is indeed deceptive and thanks to you BillJ and Davo both for seeing the sentence as either backward or the ‘by’ functioning as a ‘means’ mechanism (both entirely valid interpretations). We help turn houses into homes by financing, yes, clear and linear, but the sentence can be read as ‘better housing finance can only come from helping people achieve their goals’. We ask after their needs and better learn how best to lend as a result. The cause and effect / sequence of action is right-to-left. Seen also in aux verb / main gerund usage: ‘I stopped smoking’. – Phrontistes Nov 30 '17 at 15:42
  • @Phrontistes: ‘better housing finance can only come from helping people achieve their goals’ I disagree, but I may be wrong. Can you explain how helping people causes housing finances to improve? (and especially why helping people achieve their goals is the only way? If I gave you a billion dollars, would that not improve the means of financing? If yes, then helping people is not the only way...) – Flater Nov 30 '17 at 15:59
  • Certainly. The lender listens to the needs of their client in their loan application and once the client describes what they want (with plans, schematics, vision, goals), the money is then allocated. Ok, there's an element of chicken / egg here but after many years of experience of the lender, this database of clients is mined so as to better finance their clients' needs as the lender knows from experience. It's the 'better' in the first clause that can be key. The lender gets better at financing after helping their clients over the years turn their 'houses into homes'. Hence 'by' is legit. – Phrontistes Nov 30 '17 at 16:08
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The use of by in your case does not necessarily indicate a cause/effect relationship. This explains your 'by' better:

Followed by a gerund to indicate a means used. (Dictionary.com)

In your case, the clause after by is an explanation or an extension of the first part of your sentence. Meaning that it is ok to remove the second part of the sentence without losing your intended meaning but makes the sentence less clear.

However, if you were to express "facilitating help via financing", you might want to reconstruct your sentence.

i.e.:

We help turn our customers' houses into homes, by providing a better financing.

  • Thanks Xipu. A good interpretation. The 'by' does clearly indicate a means used. However the means used is to reach 'better' housing finance not just any old 'finance'. How? To get better at financing we need to learn from our customers needs and this comes from helping customers achieve their goals (in this case the abstract idea of 'turning houses into homes') which could be anything from consultation to renovation. The cause / effect can be right to left. The 'We finance' is a stronger opener than 'We help' and 'We finance better...' as a result of helping clients realise their goals. – Phrontistes Nov 30 '17 at 15:59
  • Okay, see if I got it right. You want to convey something like 'We can finance better, because we know our customers need as a result of helping them turn houses into homes'? "By" might not be a good proposition choice for a cause/effect relationship. Do you have to use 'by'? – Xipu Li Nov 30 '17 at 16:20
  • Indeed, 'by helping' can be replaced with 'to help' and keep the sentence as you described as a means used, L-R cause / effect. But 'by' can remain if you see the first part as stressed the way you point out: 'We finance better, by helping...'. 'By' suggests 'how' do you 'finance better' this housing for them? Well, by helping them in the first place (getting their input, needs, plans, consulting with the lender). Of course 'by' can be replaced with 'from' but I posit that 'by' can be still used and be interpreted both ways grammatically – Phrontistes Nov 30 '17 at 16:47

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