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Concourse 2

Cause and effect: expressing results

result

English has a number of ways to express the connections between causes and results.  Here are some examples of the kinds of structures commonly used classified by what they are.  In what follows, we'll look at each type in turn.

  1. Clausal subordination:
    I missed the meeting because the train was late
    If it hadn't snowed, I wouldn't have missed the meeting
  2. Clausal coordination:
    The train was late so I missed the meeting
    The train was late and I missed the meeting
  3. Conjuncts:
    The train was late.  Consequently, I missed the meeting
    The train was late.  As a result, I missed the meeting
  4. Noun phrases:
    Due to the snow, the train was late
    Because of the snow, the train was late
  5. Subject nouns:
    The consequence of the snow was that the trains were delayed
    The upshot of the snow was that the trains were delayed
  6. Result verbs:
    The snow caused the delay
    The snow affected the trains

Which formulation is selected from the range of choices available to a speaker / writer will depend, primarily, on two factors:

  1. Style:
    Conjuncts and subject nouns which refer to results are generally more formal than simple subordination or the use of simple result verbs.  For example:
        The train was late.  Hence, I missed the meeting
    and
        The result of the delay was that I missed the meeting
    are generally considered more formal than
        The snow made the train late
    or
        I missed the meeting because the train was late
  2. Desired effect:
    Whether the speaker / writer wishes to emphasise the cause or its effect will often determine the structure of choice.  For example:
        The consequence was that I missed the meeting
    emphasises the result
        But for the snow, I would have been here
    emphasises the cause.

shout

Subordination

There is separate guide to subordination on this site (linked below).  Here we are concerned only with resultative subordinating conjunctions.

The most frequently used are:

as, because, if, in order to / to, in order (that), seeing that, since, so that, so as

Although it was noted above that subordination is often the choice when informal language is required, it can be seen that some of these conjunctions (especially, in order that and since) are more formal than others in the list and more likely to appear in written English, especially where precision and clarity are needed such as in academic texts.
(To this list, we might add the conjunction whereby which generally introduces the means by which an intended outcome is achieved.  It is unusual and almost fully confined to formal writing.)

There are two functions that these subordinators perform:

  1. as, because, for, since, seeing that function to link a cause to an inevitable result.  For example:
    1.     As the train was late, I missed the meeting
          Because the train was late, I missed the meeting
          I missed the meeting since the train was late
          Seeing that I missed the meeting, I don't know what was decided
    2. These are proper subordinators, rather than coordinators, so the order of the clauses can be reversed, the subordinator remaining fixed to introduce the cause, not the effect, like this:
          I missed the meeting as the train was late
          I missed the meeting because the train was late
          Since the train was late, I missed the meeting
          I don't know what was decided, seeing that I missed the meeting
  2. in order to / to, in order (that), so that, so as, whereby all imply an action taken to secure a result rather than an inevitable consequence of an event.  For example:
    1.     In order not to be late, I hurried
          I hurried to get there on time
          In order that I wouldn't be late, I hurried
          I hurried so that I wouldn't be late
          I hurried so as not to be late
    2. Again, because these are subordinators, the clause ordering can be reversed but the conjunction sticks with the outcome of the action:
          I hurried in order not to be late
          To get there on time, I hurried
          I hurried in order that I wouldn't be late
          So that I wouldn't be late, I hurried
          So as not to be late, I hurried

There are some important logical and structural issues to be considered.

  1. It is important to distinguish between action taken to secure an outcome and the inevitable result of an event or the wrong message is sent and, often, nonsense results.  So, for example:
        The train was late so that I missed the meeting
        In order that I don't know what was decided I missed the meeting
        I hurried because I wouldn't be late
        Since I wouldn't be late, I hurried

    are all either nonsense or not the intended meaning
  2. Structurally, there are also differences between the forms because the subordinators which signal an action taken to secure an outcome need verb forms which imply the action was taken.  Often this is accomplished via the use of a non-finite infinitive form so we allow, e.g.:
        I hurried in order not to be late
        I hurried so as not to be late

    but not
        I hurried in order that I wasn't late
        I hurried seeing that to be late

    Otherwise, a finite verb phrase can be used with these conjunctions.  For example:
        So that I wouldn't be late, I hurried
        In order that I wouldn't be late, I hurried
  3. Two conjunctions, so as and in order to / to require the non-finite forms so
        I hurried so as not to be late
        I hurried not to be late
        I hurried in order not to be late

    are acceptable, but
        *I hurried so as I wouldn't be late
        *I hurried to not be late
        *I hurried in order to I wouldn't be late

    are unacceptable
  4. The subordinating conjunction so that also has a coordinating function (see below) but in terms of cause and effect, that use is considerably rarer.

if-clauses and but for (the fact that)

  1. Conditional clauses are frequently used to link cause and effect either to refer to the future or to express that but for an event a result would not have occurred.  For example:
        If the train is late, I'll miss the meeting
    refers to the result of a possible cause
        If the train hadn't been late, I wouldn't have missed the meeting
    refers to a past event which had a past consequence
  2. In the past, conditional structures are frequently in the negative or imply a frustrated event to show the direction of causation so we can have, for example:
        I would have been at the meeting if the train hadn't been late
    or
        I would have been at the meeting if the train had been on time (but it wasn't)
  3. The expression but for always refers to a noun or a nominal clause, not to a finite verb or clause so, e.g.:
        But for the train delay, I wouldn't have been late
        I would have been at the meeting but for the train delay
        I would have been at the meeting but for the fact that the train was late

    are acceptable, although
        *But for the train was late I would have been at the meeting
        *I would have been at the meeting but for I was delayed

    are not.
  4. In order to convert a finite clause into a noun phrase, a common tactic is to insert the fact that + the clause.  For example:
        Because the train was late, I missed the meeting
    can be converted to
        I missed the meeting because of the fact that the train was late
    This type of conversion is particularly frequent in written texts.

The ordering of the clauses is, as we saw, reversible but the choice will normally be made depending on whether the speaker / writer wishes to emphasise the cause or the effect.  Whichever is fronted is likely to be where the stress lies.
When the subordinate clause is in the initial position it is usually followed by a comma. 


link

Coordination

Four coordinating conjunctions serve to express resultative meaning.  They are:

so, and, so that, for

In common with other coordinators, these are in a fixed position between the clauses they link and are not mobile as subordinators.  They show explicitly the direction of causation.
The commonest coordinator by a street is so.
For example:
    The train was late so I missed the meeting
    The train was late and I missed the meeting
    There was a long delay so that I missed the meeting
    I missed the meeting for the train was late

There are differences in the use of coordinators to take into account:

  1. The clauses cannot be reversed as they can with subordination:
        So I missed the meeting the train was late
        And I missed the meeting the train was late
        So that I missed the meeting there was a long delay
        For the train was late I missed the meeting

    are all unacceptable because coordinators must appear between the clauses they connect.
  2. The direction of causality is usually explicitly signalled or nonsense results:
        I missed the meeting so the train was late
        I missed the meeting and the train was late
        I missed the meeting so that the train was late
        The train was late for I missed the meeting

    are all nonsense.
  3. The conjunction so introduces the effect, for introduces the reason:
        The train was late so I missed the meeting
        I missed the meeting for the train was late
  4. The conjunction so that is rare in this meaning and is normally used as a subordinator (see above).
  5. The conjunction and is frequently used to show the ordering of events and allows the hearer / reader to make the causal connection rather than explicitly signalling it.  It is, however, very common, especially in informal speech but rare in writing and almost never present in formal writing.

Commas are not usually used when the conjunction serves to coordinate rather than subordinate.


moor

Conjuncts

Conjuncts differ from conjunctions in that they are not part of clause in which they appear but function to link two independent clauses or sentences.  This does not invariably mean that they occur in the initial position but that is the way to bet (and, probably, the way to teach them).
Common ones are:

accordingly, as a result, consequently, hence, so, therefore, thus

All bar so are more formal than conjunctions and they all introduce or interrupt the clause expressing the effect of something.  For example:
    The train was delayed.  Consequently, I missed the meeting
    I missed the meeting.  Accordingly, I do not know what was decided
    The training was late and I missed the meeting.  So, I don't know what was decided
    The train was late.  I, therefore, missed the meeting.
    I missed the meeting.  Hence, I don't know what was decided
    I missed the meeting.  Thus, I don't know what was decided

Only the conjunct so is commonly used in informal speech and it must always be in the initial position in the clause.  For example:
    I don't need the car until tomorrow.  So, if you like, you can borrow it.
It is, in fact, in spoken language almost impossible to tell by listening to a statement whether so is being used as a coordinating conjunction or a conjunct (and it probably doesn't matter).

Conjuncts often appear in a reinforcing role with coordinating conjunctions so we can have, for example:
    The train was late so I consequently missed the meeting
    The train was late and I therefore missed the meeting
This does not, however, occur with subordinators so
    *Because the train was late I consequently missed the meeting
    *I therefore missed the meeting since the train was late
are not acceptable.

Conjuncts are usually separated from the clause in which they appear by commas.

In written texts, especially formal or academic texts, these conjuncts are frequently used to make sure that the effect is separated from the cause and signalled clearly.
They also serve to emphasise the effect rather than the cause because they introduce a new theme into the discourse.


swans

Noun phrases

A number of phrases serve to introduce nouns or nominalised clauses to show the relationship between cause and effect.  Here's a short list:

because of, as a result of, on account of, due to, owing to, as a consequence of, thanks to, through, by reason of, by virtue of, by dint of

By their nature, these phrases all introduce the cause of the effect, not, as we saw with conjuncts the effect of the cause.  In other words, they are a mirror image but they cannot act as conjuncts themselves.  For example, using a conjunct we might have:
    You have worked very hard.  Accordingly, we have finished on time.
but with a noun-phrase introducer we can rephrase that as:
    Thanks to your hard work, we have finished on time.

Other examples of these phrases are:
    Because of the snow, the train was delayed
    As a result of the delay, I missed the meeting
    On account of missing the meeting, I don't know what was decided
    Through missing the meeting, I don't know what was decided
    By virtue of the delay, I missed the meeting

which, incidentally, implies that the speaker wanted to miss the meeting
    Thanks to the delay, I missed the meeting
which implies sarcasm
and so on.
Normally, the phrases thanks to, by dint of and by virtue of introduce a positive outcome.  For example:
    By dint of hard work and application, he passed all his examinations
    By virtue of the fact that it rained, the garden flourished that summer
    Thanks to his help, we got the job done.

The last of these, however, can be used sarcastically as in, e.g.:
    Thanks to your delaying me, I missed my bus
and also has a variant which comes terminally in the phrase and means its opposite, as in, e.g.:
    We got the job done, no thanks to you.

As with subordinating conjunctions, the clauses can be reversed:
    The train was delayed because of the snow
    I missed the meeting as a result of the delay
    I don't know what was decided on account of missing the meeting
    I don't know what was decided through missing the meeting
    I missed the meeting by virtue of the delay
    I missed the meeting thanks to the delay

We noted above that the useful phrase the fact that is frequently used to convert a clause into a noun phrase and, accordingly, it appears often with these phrases, too.  For example:
    I missed the meeting on account of the fact that the train was late
    I don't know what was decided because of the fact that I missed the meeting

etc.

Because these fixed phrases introduce nominalised expressions or nouns, the non-finite gerund or perfect -ing form is frequent as in, for example:
    Through our having so little time, we didn't complete the project
    By dint of working so hard, he got everything done
    As a result of losing his money, he was obliged to walk home
    By virtue of having had such a good interview manner, he got the job

A note on owing to and due to:
Much energy has been expended since the 19th century to distinguish between these two phrases, the usual admonition being that due to is used with a noun phrase and owing to with a non-finite clause so
    It was due to my lateness that I missed the meeting
    Owing to being late, I missed the meeting

A related admonition is never to begin a sentence with due to because it should connect two noun phrases.
There are those that worry about such things but there is actually no reason at all to make this distinction.  Revered writers, including Dickens and Austen, have used the phrases interchangeably.  There seems little need to trouble with the distinction and none to trouble your learners with it.

The ordering of the clauses is, as we saw, reversible but the choice will normally be made depending on whether the speaker / writer wishes to emphasise the cause or the effect.  Whichever is fronted is likely to be where the stress lies.
If the noun phrase is in initial position, it is usually followed by a comma.


abstract

Abstract nouns

Nouns which represent a consequence are far more common in the subject position in a clause than they are as an object argument (Hoey, 2003).  Therefore,
    The consequence was that ...
is preferred over
    This made the consequence that ...
which seems clumsy and unnatural.
Other nouns that fall into this category are:

result, effect, upshot, outcome, corollary, aftermath, product

That is quite a short list, teachable in a single lesson.
They have certain connotations and the choice is a semantically rather than structurally determined.  In particular, aftermath implies a very negative consequence, upshot is informal and corollary implies a by-product rather than the main effect of something.
Otherwise, the words are close synonyms and are often used in the same text for variety and stylistic reasons rather than for any fundamental distinctions in meaning.  The nouns generally are confined to separate clauses or sentences or the writing becomes unwieldy and unnatural.  We might have, therefore:

The snow was particularly heavy and the effect was to delay all the trains.  The consequence was that I was late getting to work and the outcome of that was that I missed the meeting.  Anyway, the upshot is that I don't know what was decided.

As you can see, overuse of the nouns causes some stylistic infelicity.

The noun upshot, incidentally, although countable, has no plural form.  All the other nouns in this section are count nouns.

Consequence nouns, because they are normally the subjects of verbs, stress the outcome over the cause.


yeast

Result verbs

the yeast made the dough rise  

Result verbs are a subset of verbs referring to material processes rather than, for example, mental or relational processes and they are generally ungradable and used dynamically.  They are often used in conjunction with the limited range of nouns we have just identified.
They include:

affect, alter, cause, change, determine, effect, influence, initiate, instigate, lead to, make, modify, produce, result in, shape, trigger

and to that list we could add technical verbs such as polymerise, oxidise, force, deposit, reduce, bond, ionise, tarnish, corrode, rust and so on.  Every academic domain will have its preferred process verbs.

The choice of verb, is, therefore, as with nouns, semantically determined.  There are, however, some colligational and collocational issues to bear in mind when teaching the lexis.

  1. While we can accept:
        The yeast made the dough rise
    we cannot accept
        *The yeast caused the dough rise
        *The yeast initiated the dough rise
  2. We can also accept:
        This led to the consequence
        That produced the outcome

    but not
        *This instigated the outcome
    or
        *That made the upshot

There are, however, many commonalities.  All the verbs are mono-transitive and occur in structures such as:

Subject noun phrase Verb Object noun phrase Non-finite clause / adjunct
The small explosion caused the people in the area to panic
The rise in temperature resulted in the reaction proceeding more rapidly
The delay led inevitably to the cancellation of the meeting immediately
The history of the nation profoundly influences  people's willingness to accept the changes
The subjects' emotional states obviously shaped their ability to succeed in the task
The government's decision  made the people rebel
The extra energy  resulted in the substance melting
The bias of the researcher  modified the outcomes considerably
The results may well affect any decision of the committee

and so on.  Co-text is important when presenting the area for both structural and collocational reasons.


teach

Teaching cause and effect

The range of possible ways to link causes and effects is usually limited in the classroom to the use of a confined (and confining) set of conjunctions.  As we have seen, there's a good deal more to it than that.  Here are some classroom considerations.

  1. Conjunction:
    1. Conjunction is, however, a logical place to start, because until the direction of cause and effect is established and the concepts clarified, it's hard to go much further.
    2. The simplest form of cause-effect linking is the use of subordinating conjunctions because, as we saw, the ordering of the clauses is not a constraint providing the direction of causations is clear.
    3. There are a limited number of forms to deal with, generally confined to: as, because, if, in order to / to, in order (that), seeing that, since, so that, so as.
    4. Moreover, of these because is the most common by far and has equivalents in many languages which also have parallel ways to express the idea of x because y happened.  In European languages for example, we find the following parallels:
      English I am here because you invited me
      Dutch Ik ben hier omdat je me uitnodigde
      German Ich bin hier, weil du mich eingeladen hast
      French Je suis là parce que vous m'avez invité
      Italian Sono qui perché mi hai invitato
      Spanish Estoy aquí porque me invitaste
      Norwegian Jeg er her fordi du inviterte meg
      Conceptually and structurally, there are few problems.
      However, once we venture beyond European languages, the situation becomes more complex because some, such as the Chinese languages, have two-part conjunctions to achieve the meaning and may also distinguish structurally between events that happened simultaneously and those that followed in the course of time.
      Japanese, on the other hand has parallels in distinguishing between cause and effect in the natural way of things and cause and effect relating to the actor's intended outcomes.  The distinction between
          I am late because the train was late
      and
          I am hurrying so that I can catch the train
      will not, therefore, be conceptually difficult.
      Nevertheless, the forms of conjunction used when expressing natural consequence and intended consequence need to be presented in clear contexts or you will encourage error and confusion.
    5. A simple way to begin is with two sentences expressing natural consequence for the learners to practise combining so, once presented with:
          It was cold
          I took a coat

      the learners can see the cause and the effect as distinct and be able to produce:
          I took a coat because it was cold
          Because it was cold I took a coat
          I took a coat as it was cold

      and so on.
    6. Later (and not at the same time), the same procedure can be used to express intended consequence with, e.g.:
          It was raining
          I had a new hat
          I took an umbrella

      from which we can construct, with some help:
          It was raining so I took an umbrella in order that my new hat didn't get wet
    7. A serious pitfall to avoid when presenting conjunctions for the first time or at lower levels is encouraging confusion by mixing subordinating and coordinating conjunctions.  It is possible to see so and because as somehow connected and having opposite senses so we can convert, e.g.:
          I took an umbrella because it was raining
      into
          It was raining so I took an umbrella
      but that can also produce nonsense if we try the formula with:
          Because it was raining I took an umbrella
      as that results in:
          I took an umbrella so it was raining
      and that's nonsense because so is a coordinator and cannot be shifted around with its clause.
    8. Conditionals which express cause and effect can be dealt with separately when they are the focus of the teaching.  Focusing on cause and effect with if or but for phrases is, however, an interesting way to extend and revise the forms.
  2. Conjuncts
    1. Are another matter and a common error that learners make is to treat conjuncts as conjunctions and use them to combine two clauses in the same sentence.  We get errors, then, such as:
          *He worked hard accordingly he passed his exams
      Conjuncts have to be distinguished from conjunctions by co-text and context.
  3. Noun phrases, nouns and result verbs
    Unless your learners are studying English for Academic Purposes or need otherwise to write formally and express cause and effect, the nouns and causal verbs we deploy are probably less useful.
    1. Phrases which introduce noun phrases such as as a result of, due to etc. are best approached by distinguishing first between because and because of in a little exercise such as
      I took an umbrella because it was raining I took an umbrella because of the rain
      Do the same:
      I was uncomfortable because it was hot I was uncomfortable because of __________
      I was tired because I had been working I was tired because of __________
      Once the concept is clear in this way, it is safe to move on to the other common phrases such as as a result of, through, by virtue of and so on.
    2. Collocation grids are usually helpful with verbs:
      Mark these right or wrong.  If they are wrong, can you suggest a correct form?
      For example:
      The heat made the reaction X The heat initiated the reaction
      This made the upshot  
      The delay modified the people    
      and so on.

There is a short and simple test on this, here.



Related guides
subordination and coordination for an overview of the area
coordination for the guide dedicated to this area
subordination for the guide dedicated to this area
syntax: clauses and phrases for the index to allied areas
conjunctions for more on the word class in general


Reference:
Hoey, M, 2003, What's in a word?, Macmillan, MED Magazine, Issue 10, August 2003