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TWTS: The reason this bugs people is because it’s redundant

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Some of us learned that “the reason” and “because” shouldn’t be used in the same sentence. It’s an old rule that goes back to the 1700s, which means the construction has also been around for centuries.

Our listener Brendan Straubel counts himself among those who follow this rule.

“[When] I was teaching composition … that construct drove me crazy. It’s redundant,” he says.

Straubel’s concern about redundancy is a common one. Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage lists it first in a lengthy entry about the various objections to this construction.

The idea is that if the sentence already has “the reason,” then “because” isn’t needed. For example, instead of “The reason he works is because he needs money," you would say “The reason he works is that he needs money.”

However, some would argue that “because” can serve as a reminder to listeners or readers that you’re about to offer an explanation. “The reason we’re talking about this today” — here comes the reminder — “is because not everyone feels the same way about redundancy.”

Another objection is that after “the reason is,” there should be something that acts like a noun, such as “that,” as opposed to “because” which acts adverbially. However, there’s another construction in English that puts “because” in a noun-like place.

If someone says, “If you’re hungry, it’s because you didn’t eat dinner.” The construction “it is because” hasn’t raised concerns over the years like “the reason is because” has, but the issue is the same.

All in all, it’s up to you. If you want to use “the reason is because,” that’s fine. If you don’t want to use it, that’s fine too.

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Anne Curzan is the Geneva Smitherman Collegiate Professor of English and an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor at the University of Michigan. She also holds faculty appointments in the Department of Linguistics and the School of Education.
Rebecca Kruth is the host of Weekend Edition at Michigan Radio. She also co-hosts Michigan Radio’s weekly language podcast That’s What They Say with English professor Anne Curzan.