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Can You Start a Sentence with "Just Because"?

It's tricky to pick apart the grammar of a sentence such as Just because youre correct doesnt mean youre not annoying. Guest writer Neal Whitman explains why such sentences work and what they really mean.

By
Neal Whitman, read by Mignon Fogarty
April 3, 2014
Episode #410

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Grammar Snob card from Grammar Girl's Peeve WarsToday we’re going to talk about the phase just because.

In general, the peeve cards in my Peeve Wars game deal with commonly known problems such as dangling modifiers and misused apostrophes, but one card isn’t about mistakes: It’s the Grammar Snob card. This card says, Just because youre correct doesnt mean youre not annoying. Did you realize that this card, too, has some, shall we say, unusual grammar in it?

I’ll repeat the sentence on the Grammar Snob card: Just because youre correct doesnt mean youre not annoying. If you try to analyze this sentence by breaking it down into its subject and predicate, you’ll see that it doesn’t have a typical subject-predicate structure. The predicate is the verb phrase doesnt mean youre not annoying. It’s when we try to identify the subject that things get weird. 

Can Phrases and Clauses Be Subjects?

Although not all linguists agree, most take the subject to be Just because youre correct. This is unusual, though, because Just because youre correct is not a noun phrase like a typical subject; it’s an entire clause. 

Of course, some clauses do act like noun phrases: We call them noun clauses. However, noun clauses begin with the subordinating conjunction that, or with a question word such as who, what, where, when, why, or how. For example, in the sentence How you do it doesn’t matter, How you do it is a noun clause acting as the subject of the sentence. 

Noun clauses typically don’t begin with the subordinating conjunction because, or with just because. If we wanted to rephrase the sentence on the card with a noun clause as a subject, we could do it like this: That youre correct doesnt mean youre not annoying.

Let’s Try It With A Simpler Sentence

Then there’s the unusual meaning of these just because sentences. Take a sentence such as Just because Aardvark saw a black cat, he was afraid to go to Squiggly’s birthday party. It means that Aardvark was afraid to go to Squiggly’s birthday party for one reason: that he saw a black cat. 

Now compare this to Just because youre correct doesnt mean youre not annoying. Actually, let’s use a simpler example, without so many negatives. How about Just because youre correct doesnt mean Im wrong? And to make sure we’re comparing apples to apples, let’s use a version of this sentence that has a clearly identifiable subject: Just because youre correct, that doesnt mean Im wrong.

If this sentence were like the one about Aardvark and the black cat, it would be saying that there’s just one reason for something not meaning I’m wrong, and that one reason is that you’re right. I don’t know about you, but I can hardly understand that meaning, even after choosing a simplified example, and writing and re-writing that paraphrase. It’s nothing like the easily understood meaning about Aardvark’s superstition and Squiggly’s party.

Just Because Denies an Inference

But any native speaker of English can easily understand the meaning of Just because youre right, that doesnt mean Im wrong, and Just because youre right, that doesnt mean youre not annoying. What these sentences are doing is denying an inference that someone might mistakenly be making; specifically, If Im right, then youre wrong, and If Im right, then Im not annoying. The same goes for the more common versions without a clear subject: Just because youre correct doesnt mean Im wrong and Just because youre correct doesnt mean youre not annoying.

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