Friday, March 20, 2020

a grammar-related stumper for me

The word for is, among other things, a coordinating conjunction. When used as a coordinating conjunction (i.e., as a link between two independent clauses), it's preceded by a comma, as is true in general for comma-conjunction scenarios (see Commas, Part 1). In this context, for basically means "because" (def. 34). Below are some examples of for—the conjunction (not the preposition, e.g., "She did that for me.")—being used to mean "because":

Brad ate his pet turtle, for he was hungry.
Karen smeared the rim of the toilet seat with dung, for she was a misunderstood genius.
Here's my question, then: the word for seems to have about the same logical/semantic value as the word because... so why the comma? Because is a subordinating conjunction, and we all know that subordinating conjunctions don't take commas when the clauses they introduce aren't at the head of the sentence (Commas, Part 2).
Brad ate his pet turtle because he was hungry.
Karen smeared the rim of the toilet seat with dung because she was a misunderstood genius.
We can all sense that there's a nuanced difference between for and because; for seems a bit more elevated, flowery, poetic, and dignified—even somewhat tweedy and pretentious. Because seems more straightforwardly utilitarian.

In fact, why is for a coordinating conjunction at all? This bears looking into.

1 comment:

John Mac said...

On pins and needles here waiting for the results of your inquiry. I know it will be enlightening, for the esteemed Kevin Kim is on the case!