It’s trickier than you think. There are actually multiple choices.
Think you know how to express the concept of “because” in French? Many advanced beginner and intermediate French students learned early in their French journey that parce que is the word to use. But actually, there are many nuances to expressing “because”, both in English and in French.
In English the words “as”, “for”, and “since” are closely related to the word “because” in meaning, and it is similar in French. But often the distinctions are subtle. These words are known as conjunctions. Let’s look at four French conjunctions you can choose from, starting with the well-known parce que.
Je porte mon manteau parce qu’il fait froid dehors.
I am wearing my coat because it is cold outside.
Elle parle bien le français parce qu’elle a souvent voyagé en France.
She speaks French well because she has often travelled to France.
Pretty straight forward. Parce que, like “because”, usually represents a fairly direct cause and effect relationship.
Car― for, because
Now consider this English sentence:
Stay vigilant, for we live in dangerous times.
You could also say equally correctly, “Stay vigilant, because we live in dangerous times.” But most English speakers would agree that using “for”, instead of “because”, sounds a bit more eloquent, formal, and memorable. We might be more likely to use “for” when writing than when we speak. It’s the same in French when using the conjunction car.
Here’s the French translation of, “Stay vigilant, for we live in dangerous times.”
Restez vigilants, car nous vivons une époque dangereuse.
This is an excellent example of how car is used in French. Car can usually best be translated as “for” and is more often used in formal writing than in casual conversation where parce que is much more common.
Note that if we reversed the two connected clauses, we would not start the sentence with “For”. We would not say, “For we live in dangerous times, stay vigilant.” We instead would say, “Because we live in dangerous times, stay vigilant.” So you cannot start sentences with car. To make things simple, if the reason is coming before the consequence, you start the sentence with comme as you will learn below.
Notice also that the relationship between the two clauses is not quite as much directly cause and effect as with parce que. Perhaps more of a sense of justification. Subtle distinction, but real.
Can you use parce que interchangeably with car? Almost always.
Can you use car interchangeably with parce que? Often, but not always, and specifically not at the beginning of a sentence.
...you cannot start sentences with car.
Je ne peux pas y aller puisque je n’ai pas de voiture.
I cannot go since I have no car.
Puisque je n’ai pas étudié, je vais rater mon examen.
Since I have not studied, I’m going to fail my exam.
Puisque usually supports an obvious explanation. But be careful here! Puisque above is used in the sense of “because”. When you want to say “since”, meaning a time period from an event to the present, you must use depuis que.
Depuis que j’ai pris ce nouveau travail, je suis beaucoup plus heureux.
Since I took this new job, I am much happier.
You can review depuis from a previous blog by clicking here.
Comme―as, since, because
You are undoubtedly familiar with comme when it is used in the sense of “like”.
Elle est belle, comme sa mère.
She is beautiful, like her mother.
But comme is also used in the sense of “as” or “since”, usually used at the beginning of a sentence and typically when you are giving the reason first followed by the consequence.
Comme le train est très rapide, on peut voyager à Nice en seulement quatre heures.
As the train is very fast, we can travel to Nice in just four hours.
Comme il l’a dit, le train est déjà parti.
As he said, the train has already departed.
For you grammar hounds, these are all called subordinating conjunctions except car which is called a coordinating conjunction.
More French Practice Sentences
Comme mes yeux sont bleus, j’ai acheté un chemisier bleu. (That’s right, ha ha, chemisier is masculine!)
As (because, since) my eyes are blue, I bought a blue blouse.
Je ne veux pas sortir car je n’ai pas bien dormi la nuit dernière.
I don’t want to go out as I did not sleep well last night.
Comme je n’ai pas bien dormi la nuit dernière, je ne veux pas sortir.
As (since, because) I did not sleep well las night, I don’t want to go out.
Comme elle est tombée sur la piste, elle n’a pas gagné de médaille.
As (since) she fell on the slope, she didn’t win a medal.
Je vais en Suisse car j’adore skier !
I’m going to Switzerland, for I love to ski!
Comme j’adore skier, je vais en Suisse.
As (since, because) I love to ski, I’m going to Switzerland.
Il a mal à la tête ce matin puisqu’il a trop bu hier soir.
He has a headache this morning since he drank too much last evening.
J’adore partir en vacances avec Camille parce qu’elle est très drôle.
I love to go on vacation with Camille because she is very funny.
So, if you only want to remember one word for “because” in French, choose parce que and you’ll get along OK. But if you want to be a bit more fluent, or sometimes more formal, learn to use car, puisque, and comme too!
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