Common Errors in Written English: The Reason Why is Because

The Reason Why is Because

by Owen Fourie

I have to write about this. The reason why is because this is happening too often in spoken and written English. Ouch!

The second sentence in the preceding paragraph exhibits a usage problem.

To use the three words reason, why, and because in one sentence is unnecessary, and it is grammatically incorrect.

I hear this more often than I see it in print, but it certainly is used in writing too.

To be correct, let’s remove the redundancy:

  • I have to write about this because this is happening too often ..
  • I have to write about this. The reason is that this is happening too often …

Here, we use only what is necessary.

Avoid these constructions in your formal speaking and writing:

  • the reason why;
  • the reason is because;
  • the reason why is because.

As we consider what each of these words means, the reason for avoiding these constructions will become clear.

Reason

The word reason is often followed by a statement of the cause of any thought, feeling, action, event, or situation.

Why

To use the word why in a question evokes an answer that reveals the cause of any thought, feeling, action, event, or situation. Used in the redundant manner described above, it introduces that cause.

Reason and why really serve the same purpose, so only one of these is needed in a sentence, and it is not why.

Because

The word because introduces the explanation of the cause of any thought, feeling, action, event, or situation. It is also used to begin an explanation of any obligation involved in any circumstance.

Because can be replaced by the words for the reason that, which makes it redundant if reason is already there in the sentence.

It is clumsy and ungrammatical to use two of these words or all three together in one sentence.

It is better to leave “the reason why is because” to politicians who need to stall a bit to choose the convenient answer to a tricky question.

The reason why

Having said that, it is interesting to note that the use of “the reason why” is not without literary precedent.

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), the most outstanding of all the men of letters in English history, often used this term in his writing. Here is only one instance:

“This is the reason why almost every one wishes to quit his employment;
he does not like another state, but is disgusted with his own.”
The Works of Samuel Johnson, LL.D. Vol. 5. London, 1823. Print. The Idler, Page 405.

Famous English writers have used this construction for hundreds of years.

Perhaps it could be argued that there is a difference between being a recognized writer who knows the rules and breaks them for convenience or effect and being a writer of a formal paper in college or school, not knowing this rule and breaking it anyway.

Can we really argue with Samuel Johnson and other famous authors, though?

The reason is because

This term is another one that has been used by famous writers—Bacon, Dryden, Swift, and Addison, to name a few. Their use of it does not imply grammatical correctness.

To be awfully technical, for a moment, if you say “the reason is because,” it means that you are about to use an adverbial clause after a copulative (or linking) verb instead of using a predicate nominative.

“The reason is that” is a better construction in formal usage because it ensures the use of the predicate nominative, which should follow a linking verb. In this case, the predicate nominative will be a noun clause renaming the subject, reason.

Consider this too: In the construction “the reason is because,” if the word because introduces an adverbial clause, and the function of an adverb is to modify a verb, an adjective, or another adverb, what will this adverbial clause modify?

It cannot modify the linking verb is. There isn’t an adjective available, and there isn’t another adverb that it can modify. We are left with the word reason, which is a noun, and adverbs do not modify nouns. This means that “the reason is because” is a faulty construction.

English isn’t easy, is it?

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Since there are literary precedents for “the reason why” and “the reason is because,” do you think formal grammar requirements should allow their use? Your comments, observations, and questions are welcome.

Here are more articles to help you with English words, grammar, and essay writing.

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