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GMAT Idiom: because vs. because of

UPDATE: You can find this blog and others about idioms in our new GMAT Idiom eBook!

First, a practice GMAT Sentence Correction question:

1) Because of Elnath Industries posting a second consecutive quarter of losses, its stocks tumbled 20% in the last three days.

    (A) Because of Elnath Industries posting
    (B) Because of Elnath Industries having posted
    (C) Because Elnath Industries posting
    (D) Because Elnath Industries posted
    (E) Because Elnath Industries had been posting



By itself, the word “because” is a subordinate conjunction.  What does that mean?  It means, this word opens a subordinate clause.   A subordinate clause, like any clause, must have a complete [noun] + [verb] structure within it, like a mini-sentence: in fact, if you drop the subordinate conjunction, the rest of the subordinate clause should be able to stand alone as a sentence.  Furthermore, the fact that this clause is subordinate (i.e. dependent) means there must be another main, independent clause providing the meat-and-potatoes of the sentence.

The general outline of a sentence involving the word “because” might be:

Because” + [sub. noun] + [sub. verb], [main noun] + [main verb].

Of course, all kinds of adjectives, adverbs, and other modifies can be added to this structure.   The [sub. noun] + [sub. verb] provide the structure of the subordinate clause — and could stand on their own as a complete sentence.  The sentence as a whole depends on the [main noun] + [main verb] as its core structure.  For example,

2) Because teenagers are insatiably hungry, their parents are always buying food.

Notice that the [noun] + [verb] within the subordinate clause, “teenagers are insatiably hungry”, could work as its own sentence: that’s a great trick to test a clause on the GMAT Sentence Correction.  Nevertheless, in this context, “their parents” is the main subject and “are … buying” is the main verb.


Because of

The words “because of” are a compound preposition.   Prepositions are designed to be followed by only a noun —- “because of the rain“, “because of the parade“, “because of the child’s temper tantrum“, etc.   The object of this or any preposition can be a gerund or gerund phrase —- “because of waiting for the senator“, “because of limited parking“, “because of having eaten out every night this week“, etc.  That last example is getting to the limit of how much action, how much story, the GMAT likes to pack inside a prepositional phrase.  On the Sentence Correction, the GMAT is adamantly opposed to the following structure:

[preposition] + [noun] + [participle]

when this structure contains an “action word” participle.  Even though this could be grammatically correct in a technical sentence, many would be likely to find this in poor taste, and for GMAT Sentence Correction purposes, this is 100% wrong.

Example “Because of the President going to Myanmar …” = WRONG!

As far as the GMAT is concerned, this is just too much action, too much story, for a preposition to handle.  If you are going to have both an action and the person/agent performing the action, then what you need is a clause, not merely a prepositional phrase.



Having read this post, take another look at the practice sentence above before reading the explanation below.   Here’s another practice Sentence Correction question involving this idiom:



Practice question explanation

1) We have an actor & an action, so a preposition is not enough: we need a full [noun] + [verb] clause, which means we need the subordinate conjunction “because”.  The first two, with the preposition “because of”, are wrong.   Choice (C) involves the missing verb mistake — having a [noun] + [participle] in place of [noun] + [verb].  Only (D) & (E) have “because” + [noun] + [verb].   Choice (E) involves a very strange tense: the past perfect progressive — this is not at all required by or appropriate to the context.   Thus, the only possible correct answer is (D).


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6 Responses to GMAT Idiom: because vs. because of

  1. kinjal September 19, 2014 at 9:14 am #

    Because of Elnath Industries posting a second consecutive quarter of losses, its stocks tumbled 20% in the last three days

    I think there is a pronoun error. I think logically “its” refers to Elnath industries’. Can you please clarify?

    • Mike McGarry
      Mike September 19, 2014 at 1:52 pm #

      Dear Kinjal,
      I’m happy to respond. :-) This is not an error, but this is gray area that you will NOT be expected to know for the GMAT. I wasn’t focused on the pronoun issue when I wrote the question, so I inadvertently included something in a gray area that the GMAT would not test.
      You see, sometimes nouns that appear plural are construed as singular. Here, I am suggesting that Elnath Industries is a single company with a single stock, so even through the name sounds plural, it is technically singular, and requires both a singular verb and a singular pronoun. The verb issue did not arise in this question, because the action is in the past tense. The words “statistics” and “linguistics” are non-proper nouns in this category: plural in form, but construed as singular. I have NEVER seen the GMAT actually test this point, so I wouldn’t worry about it.
      Does all this make sense?
      Mike :-)

  2. JG April 6, 2014 at 12:34 am #

    Thanks for a great explanation.

    Can you tell me why we seem to be able to say:

    “I went to Tokyo because of work”

    but not:

    “I went to Tokyo because of a holiday”

    • Mike McGarry
      Mike April 7, 2014 at 11:57 am #

      Dear JG,
      Here, we are getting into deeply contextual nuances that are not entirely related to what the GMAT tests. The former case implies a direct and unambiguous cause. If “I went to Tokyo because of work”, that implies that my boss said, essentially, “You must go to Tokyo.” In other words, there was something causal about my work situation that absolutely necessitated my trip to Tokyo, perhaps at the risk of my job.
      If during a holiday, I choose of my own free volition to take an enjoyable trip to Tokyo, then it would be wrong to say, “I went to Tokyo because of a holiday” — that latter construction implies a strict sequence of cause-and-effect. If I say “I went to Tokyo because of a holiday”, that would seem to imply that there was something about the nature of the holiday that, for some reason, utterly necessitated my trip to Tokyo, some external requirement beyond my free will. That’s not the case with pleasure trips.
      For example, sometimes I do say: “I traveled back east because of the Christmas holidays.” What I am implying there is that there is something causal, something beyond the operation of my spontaneous free will. Indeed, my family back east has non-negotiable expectations that I will make that trip every year, so phrasing it in that way points to the causal elements that are beyond my control. It doesn’t contradict the fact that I also want to go, of my own free will, but it points to the elements beyond my control.
      Does all this make sense?
      Mike :-)

  3. deepika March 19, 2014 at 2:49 am #

    Thanks for the explanation;It’s very useful;

    • Mike McGarry
      Mike March 19, 2014 at 9:56 am #

      Dear Deepika,
      You are quite welcome, my friend. I am very glad you found this helpful. Best of luck to you!
      Mike :-)

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