This Week’s Grammar Pet Peeve: “Is Because”

Montreal Syllabus TranslationMy grammar teacher put the fear of God in me. A towering man with wiry eyebrows, he would chew me out over the slightest error, and one of his greatest pet peeves was the phrase “the reason is because . . .”

At the time, I was so afraid of faulty predication that whenever I ran across the wicked construction, I would blindly swap “because” for “that” without understanding why.

Out in the real world, “is because” is bandied about without remorse, begging the question—is it so wrong?

Grammatically speaking, it does break the rules a wee bit. But what really gets word nerds worked up into a lather is that it’s redundant and wordy—the same reasons they don’t like the devilish construction “the reason why.”

Follow these examples to avoid the grammarians’ wrath:

The reason you can’t stay up late is because you’ll be tired tomorrow. (incorrect)
The reason you can’t stay up late is that you’ll be tired tomorrow. (correct, but still wordy)
You can’t stay up late because you’ll be tired tomorrow. (correct and less wordy!)

Similarly:

The reason why I called is to say hi. (redundant)
The reason I called is to say hi. (short and sweet!)

That said, when we talk, we often use wordy and redundant phrases to add emphasis or soften the blow of negative news. As with most grammar pet peeves—you can get away with using them when you speak, but avoid them when you write.

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