To start out this Grammar Time post, let’s look at two examples:
The reason we have Grammar Time blogs is because we want to teach people the rules behind grammar.
The reason we have Grammar Time blogs is that we want to teach people the rules behind grammar.
We hear both of the above structures when talking to people around us. But which one is right? The second sentence is actually more correct and should be used in writing.
Let’s break down why that is.
The Role of Linking Verbs
“To be” is a linking verb, which is a verb that connects a subject with a noun or adjective that describes or reidentifies the subject; the noun or adjective that follows a linking verb is called a subject complement. You can think of the linking verb as an equal sign between the subject and the subject complement.
The girl is a good student.
The girl = a good student.
It simply links the subject with the rest of the sentence, whereas other types of verbs (such as “to talk,” “to run,” and “to sleep”) denote action.
Linking Verbs and “The Reason Is…”
Let’s look at our phrase again: “the reason is….”
Because we now know that “is” is acting as a linking verb, we know that what follows should be a noun or adjective that describes what “the reason” is.
Imagine that one morning you get a flat tire. You walk into work late and your boss gives you major side-eye, prompting an explanation. Remember: the reason (the subject) = your flat tire (a noun). So you go to your boss and say, “The reason I’m late is my flat tire.”
When to Use “That” with a Linking Verb
Okay, what if you’re late, but the reason is more than just a simple noun? You left for work, but your car broke down on the side of the road, so you’re late. You can’t just say, “The reason I’m late is my car,” because there’s more to it than that.
You can’t say, “The reason I’m late is my car broke down” either, because that structure no longer works. Remember, linking verbs should be followed by a noun or an adjective, and a full sentence like, “My car broke down,” isn’t a noun or adjective—unless you add “that.”
When you add “that” before a phrase (or clause), you create a nominal clause or a phrase that is functioning as a noun. So, with that in mind, you can fully explain your reasoning while being grammatically correct.
So now the sentence is, “The reason I’m late is that my car broke down.”
Why “Because” Doesn’t Need to Be Involved
Now that you understand the logic behind the “the reason is that” phrasing, let’s look at why “because” doesn’t belong there. Phrases that start with “because” function as adverbial phrases—phrases that directly modify a verb or adjective.
I run because I want to stay in shape.
In this sentence, “because I want to stay in shape” is directly modifying the verb “run,” which is what makes it an adverbial phrase.
As we’ve discussed, linking verbs require a subject complement, which would be a noun (or nominal clause) or an adjective, to redefine the subject. Adverbial phrases cannot be subject complements, as adverbs never modify nouns. So, for that reason, “The reason is because…” doesn’t work grammatically.
Overall, Avoid Redundancy in Writing
Some resources you may find are descriptive (like the dictionary), meaning they describe how we speak rather than prescribing rules, and some of those say that “the reason is because” is fine to use but redundant. But overall, there just isn’t a need for the “because” in a phrase like this; it doesn’t add any meaning to the sentence and is grammatically incorrect. In writing, we should avoid this structure.
Until next time!