Showing cause and effect without connectors

Showing cause and effect is straightforward when we use connectors, like this:

He heard that false name so he hesitated.

But connectors can get a bit clunky and unwieldy.

For example, here’s what the snippet above would look like in the context of the original paragraph:

"Robert, would you take those jugs of milk into the dining room?" she asked.

He heard that false name so he hesitated, but he wasn't sure what to do about it yet.

Using simple sentences and the connector ‘so’ makes the events in this snippet feel a little disjointed and clunky.

But there are other ways to write this that keep the cause and effect relationship and fix the clunk. Here's how it is done in the novel:

"Robert, would you take those jugs of milk into the dining room?" she asked.

Hearing that false name made him hesitate, but he wasn't sure what to do about it yet.

The best thing about this version is it that the actions flow smoothly into each other, instead of each action feeling isolated.

(At the same time, where you do want a disconnect there is one: with 'but'.)

How do we understand cause and effect in this snippet?

The supporting clause is the same kind of 'continuous action' ‘-ing’ clause we saw at the start of this lesson ("He came in smiling"), but notice the grammatical role this one plays inside the main clause.

Is the supporting clause acting as a subject, object, or modifier?

Hearing that false name made him hesitate.

It’s playing the subject role.

Remember the subject of a clause is usually who or what is doing something

  • In this snippet, that who-or-what subject is an event: "hearing the false name".
  • And what that event is doing is "making him hesitate".

So this way of writing has streamlined the clunky connector and replaced it with a verb group, making a more dynamic expression of how one event has caused another.

Here are some variations on that theme:

Kicking the door down alerted all of the guards to the thief’s presence.

The crows cawing at 4am gave everyone something to complain about.

Write your own sentence with one event causing another, using an ‘-ing’ clause in the subject position.

Word groups can change their meaning based on where they are located in a sentence. We understand this intuitively in conversation without even noticing it.

For example we know that in this sentence...

  • The dog chased the cat.

...the dog is doing the chasing and the cat is being chased.

And that if we swap them around...

  • The cat chased the dog.

...then the meaning also swaps: the cat is now chasing and the dog is being chased.

It’s all based on position

Supporting clauses have the same power of being able to move around quite fluidly and change meaning as they move, whereas simple sentences with connectors tend to be more brittle and clunky.

That's because supporting clauses can leverage the power of position in a sentence, whereas connectors have to be laid out according to their defined meanings.