Which is correct?
A) I’m writing about word usage because it’s a popular topic.
B) I’m writing about word usage since it’s a popular topic.
If you read the results of my recent poll, you know both statements are true. But what about using the word “since” in place of “because”? I wish I could say it’s one of those trick questions where they’re both correct, but, as with many word usage issues, it’s not that simple.
Most editors—as well as their style manuals and reference books—will tell you it’s perfectly OK to use “since” in this sense (as in answer B). The Chicago Manual says the belief “the word relates exclusively to time” is “erroneous,” citing hundreds of years of causative usage. The AP Stylebook takes a slightly less supportive stance, stating “since is acceptable in a causal sense when the first event in a sequence led logically to the second but was not its direct cause.” Merriam-Webster uses each word in the definition of the other. So we’re all pretty much in agreement, yes? Not quite.
Unfortunately, words with dual meanings can create confusion. For example, “I’ve been planning to write a word usage post since it was voted the most popular blog topic” could mean from the time of the vote or because of the vote. For this reason, more cautious grammarians recommend we narrow the meaning of “since” to a past point in time.
And they do have a point, which most grammar texts acknowledge and some style guides embrace. The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, which is used in the social and behavioral sciences, advises, “since is more precise when it is used to refer only to time (to mean ‘after that’); otherwise, replace it with because.”
As always, if there’s the potential for misunderstanding, choose your words carefully. But in general, here’s one word usage issue that’s not really an issue. Most of us, including myself, use both “since” and “because” to indicate causation. When I try to maintain a distinction between the two, it seems forced.
Now, I wouldn’t necessarily argue this point on a copy editing test. But if you’re hired and put in charge of the style guide …