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Tetyana Maslova

National Technical University of Ukraine KPI

The grammar of cause and effect in scientific English

As science and technology are primarily concerned with discovering how and why things work, the grammar and description of cause and effect is obviously very important for the learners of English, and English for Engineering in particular. Generally speaking, cause and effect can be expressed in English in many ways, these are the result of sentence combining by means of relevant transitions, sometimes nominalization (the creation of a noun phrase), or both.

The most useful ways of connecting cause and effect may be divided into several groups, depending upon which part of speech serves as an indicator of cause-and-effect relations, namely preposition, conjunction, adverb, verb or noun. All of them express the logical connection between events, actions, or states by introducing either the valid reasons or the results obtained. For the sake of convenience we will consider each case separately, providing appropriate examples from texts in electrical engineering and giving comments on frequency and appropriacy.

 

1.                        Expressing cause

1.1 because, as, since, for + subordinate clause

All these conjunctions are encountered quite often, although for is certainly less frequently used than the others. At any rate, it never occurs at the beginning of the sentence (1). It is also interesting to note that in English scientific writing because (2) is not so popular as since (3) and as (4), which refer to a cause that is supposed to be already known to a reader.

1) e.g. The term storage battery may be a misleading one, for the storage battery does not store any electricity at all.

2) e.g. Because alternating current can be made to change direction many times a second, signals can be sent through the air to distant places.

3) e.g. Indicating and recording instruments do not differ in principle since they are both used to measure the same kinds of things.

4) e.g. As the resistance of the wire itself is only 10 ohms or so, it will be seen that the added resistance absorb the greater part of the voltage applied to the instrument spindle.

 

1.2 due to, because of, on account of, owing to, thanks to, as a result of + noun phrase

These prepositions are typically found only inside the sentence (1-3), except for thanks to (4) and due to, the latter being most often used with the verb be (5).

1) e.g. The primary applied voltage is slightly larger on account of the voltage drops.

2) e.g. Alternating voltage can be increased or decreased with little energy loss owing to the transformer.

3) e.g. Breaking the circuit causes sparking as a result of the coil current flow.

4) e.g. Thanks to the electromagnetic effect the use of such a machine as an electric motor has become possible.

5) e.g. The force between the parallel wires carrying the current cannot be due to static charges.

 

1.3 to be the result of, to result from, to be caused by + noun phrase

Strange as it may be, unlike verb expressions with result (1, 2), the verb cause in Passive is come across only occasionally in engineering writings (3).

1) e.g. A hundred watt-hours may be the result of 100 w for a period of one hour as well as of 50 w for a period of two hours.

2) e.g. The errors in the kVA measurement resulting from this small departure from the ideal conditions does not exceed plus or minus 0.75 per cent above the normal error.

3) e.g. Rotation is caused by a starting torque exerted on the rotor.

 

1.4 the cause of, the reason for + noun phrase

Both nouns are seldom used, the latter being sometimes accompanied by an adjective, for example main, major, obvious, primary, important, principal, simple, etc. (1, 2).

1) e.g. The cause of other errors may be the expansion of the baseplate and various wires employed.

2) e.g. The most important reason for the utilization of electric power in the a.c. form is that it is easy to transform a.c. power from one voltage to another.

 

2.                        Expressing effect

2.1 so that, with the result that + subordinate clause

In addition to stating a purpose, so that can be used for saying that something occurs because of what has been just mentioned (1); with the result that inducates a direct effect of what has happened previously (2).

1) e.g. Practically every voltmeter is operated by a flow of current through the instrument, so that the voltmeter is really a form of ammeter.

2) e.g. The same process s repeated, with the result that the iron is brought back to its initial state of magnetization.

 

2.2. therefore, thus, hence, so, accordingly, consequently + subordinate clause

The most frequently used conjunctive adverbs are therefore (1) and thus (2), both of them being enclosed in commas. Accordingly and consequently are less frequent and come across mostly at the beginning of the sentence (3, 4). It is also common practice to find thus, hence and so in the middle of the sentence, preceded by a comma (5) or after and (6, 7).

1) e.g. The integrating instruments give the product of time and the current flowing over a certain period. They are, therefore, like the gas meter, which registers the quantity of gas consumed.

2) e.g. The induced e.m.f. always acts in such a direction as to oppose the change of current in the circuit. Thus, if the current is rising, inductance tends to oppose its growth.

3) e.g. The average cost per kWh supplied depends upon the power factor. Accordingly, tariffs have been devised to include the power consumption as well as the consumers maximum demand.

4) e.g. Electrical instruments are fundamentally current measuring devices. Consequently, most voltmeters are ammeters designed to measure small values of current directly proportional to voltage to be measured.

5) e.g. As a semiconductor is heated, free electrons in it increase in number, hence, its conductivity increases as well.

6) e.g. Industrial users of electrical energy are encouraged to improve their power-factor and thus to reduce the cost of supply of the energy supplied.

7) e.g. They measure the product of power and time and so add up the energy consumed.

 

2.3 to result in, to lead to, to cause, to give rise to, to bring about + noun phrase

As any other verbs, these may be used in any tense or form required (1-5). Moreover, there are also some intransitive verbs expressing the effect, namely to result (vi) and arise (vi), which will function quite differently. In this case, it is the subject of the sentence that serves as the effect (6, 7).

1) e.g. The chemical reactions in the cell resulted in the delivery of electrical energy.

2) e.g. For the operation of ammeter and voltmeter various effects of electric current are used leading to a number of different types of instrument.

3) e.g. A very minute expansion in the hot wire causes a considerable movement of the spindle.

4) e.g. When an electric current flows, it will give rise to various effects.

5) e.g. There are voltage drops brought about by the primary resistance.

6) e.g. If the plates are connected together through an external circuit, a current will result.

7) e.g. A similar condition may arise as a result of switching operations elsewhere on the system.

 

2.4. the effect of, the result of + noun phrase

It seems that these nouns are not usually accompanied by any attribute in engineering papers.

1) e.g. The current in the rotor is the result of electromagnetic induction, which requires that there be relative motion between flux and conductors.

2) e.g. Magnetic flux is considered to be the effect of magnetic force acting on a magnetizable body.

 

2.5 As a result, For this reason, It follows that.. + subordinate clause

As a result can occur at the beginning of the sentence (1). However, other patterns of noun expressions are commonly preferred (2, 3). The noun reason in the expression above may also be accompanied by an adjective (4).

1) e.g. The voltages have been induced in the rotor windings. As the result, currents start flowing and a torque is produced which brings the motor up to speed.

2) e.g. Any motion across the direction of the lines will produce an electromotive force in the conductor. For this reason, the conductor is said to cut the lines of force.

3) e.g. The opposition must come from a force of the same nature, namely an e.m.f. It follows that the armature must set up a back e.m.f.

4) e.g. For mechanical reasons, wire smaller than 36 W.G. is seldom used in the primary winding.

Needless to say, the development of profound writing skills is an essential issue in teaching English for science and technology. Indeed, connecting cause and effect arguments may be an effective task for practising how to write scientifically. There are at least two possible ways of designing such an assignment. The first one is to ask learners to combine two sentences or noun phrases by means of various connective patterns we have just studied above. For example:

Cause: insulation breakdown (noun phrase)

Effect: A short circuit is produced. (sentence)

Possible combinations:

1) A short circuit is produced because the insulation is broken.

2) A short circuit is produced due to the insulation breakdown.

3) A short circuit results from the insulation breakdown.

4) The cause of the short circuit is that the insulation is broken.

5) The insulation is broken, so that a short circuit is produced.

6) The insulation is broken. Therefore, a short circuit is produced.

7) The insulation breakdown causes a short circuit.

Secondly, it would be practicable to find a complex or compound sentence from authentic text containing the structures under consideration and try to analyze the relations between separate effects by constructing a few simple sentences instead. For example:

Original sentence: Inductance is not apparent in d.c. circuits, if the current is steady. The reason for this is that the induced e.m.f. resulting from inductance is due to the rate at which the current and, therefore the flux, is changing.

Possible sentences derived:

1) Inductance is not apparent in d.c. circuits because the current does not change in value. 2) E.m.f. is induced due to inductance. 3) Inductance is caused by the magnetic flux which is changing. 4) The changes in magnetic flux result from that in the current.

 

References

1. Hogue, A. and A. Oshima. (2006) Writing Academic English. New York: Pearson Education Inc.

2. Macmillan English dictionary for advanced learners (2007) Macmillan Publishers Limited

3. Peter Master (2004) English grammar and technical writing Office of English Language Programs of the US Department of State