Stop!…Grammar Time: Double-Sided

Stop!…Grammar Time is an occasional feature about grammar and style. Sometimes with 90s Top-40 references. Sometimes not.

Today’s installment is going to like an old 45: two snappy, self-contained singles. Here we go.

A Side: The Reason is Because

Here’s a regrettable tic of spoken English that finds its paradoxical ways into writing.

The reason people love Led Zeppelin is because of Jimmy Page.

The construction is “The reason is [X]” not “The reason is because [x].” You don’t need both “reason” and “because”; one is plenty. In fact, using them both sets your sentences on a fantastic voyage through space and time. In the above example, Jimmy Page is not the reason people love Led Zeppelin, he is the reason for the [unstated] reason people love Led Zeppelin, as the reason is “because” of him.

It should be either “People love Led Zeppelin because of Jimmy Page” or “The reason people love Led Zeppelin is Jimmy Page.”

B Side: Helplessly Hoping

Here’s another unwanted house-guest from spoken English: beginning sentences with “hopefully.”

Example: “Hopefully, you don’t make this mistake.”

“Hopefully” is an adverb that means “in a hopeful manner.” Adverbs, as you know, only modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs. Here, “hopefully” modifies “do not make.” Rewritten with the definition substituted for the word, the sentence reads: “You do not make this mistake in a hopeful manner.” Technically, this mistake is a misplaced modifier, because “hopefully” modifies the wrong word. What we mean by this sentence is “I hope you do not make this mistake.”

The origin of this common mistake is unknown; somehow we came to understand that using “hopefully” to start a sentence meant “I hope that the thing that comes after this happens or does not happen.” We started this mess, and that means we can put a stop to it.


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