Blog Grammar Rules Cause and Effect: Definition, Meaning, and Examples

Cause and Effect: Definition, Meaning, and Examples

Allison Bressmer

Allison Bressmer

Professor and Freelance Writer

Published Apr 21, 2022

Cause and Effect Title

You may be familiar with the Biblical quote “You reap what you sow.” The things you do are like planted seeds, and those seeds produce a crop which is the result of your actions.

The quote is an example of the cause and effect relationship. Your action, sowing good or bad seeds, produces a reaction, a healthy or rotten harvest.

A cause is an action, and the effect is the resulting reaction.

Contents:
  1. Definition of Cause and Effect
  2. What Does Cause and Effect Mean?
  3. Examples of Cause and Effect in Sentences
  4. Cause and Effect Relationship Examples
  5. Cause and Effect Words

Definition of Cause and Effect

In the cause and effect relationship, one or more things happen as a result of something else.

A cause is a catalyst, a motive, or an action that brings about a reaction—or reactions. A cause instigates an effect.

An effect is a condition, occurrence, or result generated by one or more causes. Effects are outcomes.

Cause and effect synonyms

What Does Cause and Effect Mean?

Cause and effect means that things happen because something prompted them to happen.

A cause is why something happens. An effect is what happened.

For example, you have a picnic planned for Sunday afternoon. However, the weather becomes stormy and you have to cancel your outdoor plans.

In this situation, the cause is the stormy weather and the effect of that stormy weather is the picnic cancellation.

Cause and effect definition

Cause and effect are intertwined. American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Cause and effect are two sides of one fact.”

You can’t have an effect without a cause, nor can you have a cause without an effect.

In cause and effect relationships, there may be multiple causes and multiple effects. The relationship may cycle on with a cause leading to effects that become a cause for more effects!

Let’s say that you oversleep and are late to a meeting and, because you’re late to the meeting, you miss out on the delicious pastries the boss brought in. Since you missed the pastries, you’re hungry and aggravated. This may in turn have an effect on your next interaction with a colleague or client.

Cause and effect circle

Examples of Cause and Effect in Sentences

Cause and effect sentences show a clear, direct relationship between events. They show how one event or action triggers an outcome. They may also show how an effect has more than one cause, or a cause has more than one effect.

Cause and effect sentences can present the cause first and follow it with the effect, or present the effect first and follow it with the cause.

The order of cause and effect

  • I ate tons of junk food, so now I feel sick.
  • I feel sick because I ate tons of junk food.

These sentences have the same cause and effect presented in a different order. These sentences share the same meaning and show the same relationship.

In the next five sentences, determine which comes first, the cause or the effect.

  • He lied to me, so I ended our relationship.

  • Since I was up all night with my sick child, I’m exhausted this morning.

  • She never gave up on her writing, and now she’s published a book!

  • They could finish the race because they had trained for it so diligently.

  • They gave the restaurant a critical review because their food was burnt to a crisp.

In the first three sentences, the cause comes first. In sentences four and five, the effect comes first.

Cause and Effect Relationship Examples

Cause and effect relationships exist in just about every subject area.

History

We can see the causes of local, national, or global events, and the effects of those events. We can ask, “What were the causes of World War II?” and then “What were the effects of World War II?”

We can examine what caused an economic recession or depression and the effects of that crisis on society.

In these cases, as with many others, there are multiple causes and multiple effects.

Science

In 2020, the world was hit with a global pandemic. Scientists saw the effects of the disease on people’s health and lives and began searching for the cause of the virus.

As the story goes, Sir Isaac Newton observed an effect, an apple falling from a tree. This prompted him to seek the cause of that fall—why did the apple fall down, not sideways or up? His observation of that effect led him to discover the cause: gravity.

When conducting experiments, scientists perform an action (cause) to see what will happen as a result (effect).

Most of us probably had to do an experiment with plants in school. We examined what happened to our two plants (effects) depending on whether we gave or withheld from them proper light and water (cause).

The Natural World

Nature is full of examples of cause and effect.

  • Plants grow as a result of the sun’s heat and light.
  • Bears hibernate so they can conserve energy and won’t require food during the winter months when food is scarce.
  • The moon’s gravitational pull causes the ocean’s tides.

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Story

Narrative stories, both fiction and non-fiction, are often driven by cause and effect.

In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Gatsby bases all of his action on pleasing Daisy because he is obsessed with winning her love.

Daily Life

Our everyday lives are full of cause and effect experiences.

  • As a result of studying hard, you aced your test!
  • You called in sick because you woke up with a fever.
  • You meet friends for drinks because it’s your birthday.

Cause and Effect Words

There are words that signal a cause and effect relationship. These words can help readers recognize the cause and effect structure of a passage, making it easier to comprehend content.

Words that signal a cause include:

Source Root Origin
Seed Bring about Starting Point

Words that signal effect include:

Result Consequence Upshot
Outcome Ramification Reaction

Signal Words in Cause and Effect Sentences

Observe how the signal words communicate the relationship in these cause and effect example sentences:

  • As a result of COVID, many high school students couldn’t experience graduation ceremonies.

  • There was a multi-car accident on the highway, so traffic was at a standstill.

  • I’ve started eating a much healthier diet. Consequently, I’ve lost weight and have more energy.

  • Thanks to my caring friends, I recovered from a difficult situation.

  • Since the weather was perfect, we spent the entire day outdoors.

  • My partner got his dream job 200 miles away from where we currently live. As a result, we have to sell the home and move.

  • His financial hardships are due to his careless spending.

  • She campaigned the hardest, therefore she won the vote.

  • The doctor’s optimism is the reason for our positive outlook.

  • Your sister is several years older than you. Accordingly, she has more responsibility and independence.

TIP: Observe the sentences that start with cause signal words (As a result, Thanks to, Since). There are two clauses in those sentences and they are connected by a comma.

The first clause is dependent meaning that it must be attached to an independent clause to make sense. When left alone, dependent clauses can become sentence fragments which are grammatically incorrect.

ProWritingAid is a thorough grammar checker that will alert you to any fragments and make suggestions for revision.

Cause and effect sentence fragment

A Final Word on Cause and Effect

A cause and effect relationship is one in which an event generates an outcome. We see these relationships everywhere: from history to science to nature to literature to daily life!

When you’re reading or writing about cause and effect, look for or use signal words that make the relationship between the event (cause) and the outcome (effect) clear.


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Allison Bressmer

Allison Bressmer

Professor and Freelance Writer

Allison Bressmer is a professor of freshman composition and critical reading at a community college and a freelance writer. If she isn’t writing or teaching, you’ll likely find her reading a book or listening to a podcast while happily sipping a semi-sweet iced tea or happy-houring with friends. She lives in New York with her family. Connect at linkedin.com/in/allisonbressmer

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