How do native speakers interpret the setence if you hear (not read) it? If my understanding is correct, it can be interpreted in two ways as below.

  1. She didn't come home, because it was raining.
  2. She came home, but it is not because it was raining.

If it is written, then punctuation (with or without a comma before "because") is a key to figure out, but what if it is spoken? I understand the meaning can vary depending on the context, but what if the context does not give you any clear clues?

  • The sentence is simply ambiguous. This ambiguity is occasionally used for humorous effect.
    – The Photon
    Jul 12, 2020 at 5:15
  • @The Photon, Thanks for the comment. Is such ambiguity occasionally used? For humorous effect? I am curious how humorous it can be.
    – Takashi
    Jul 12, 2020 at 7:29

2 Answers 2


You're right that in written form, the comma makes a big difference in interpretation:

  1. She didn't come home, because it was raining.

    This means that she didn't come home, and the reason she didn't come home was because it was raining.

    It's the same as if there were two difference sentences, or if the sentence was reversed:

    She didn't come home. Because it was raining.
    Because it was raining, she didn't come home.

  2. She didn't come home because it was raining.

    This means that the reason she didn't come home was because of something other than the fact that it was raining:

    She didn't come home because it was raining, but because she remembered she'd left the stove on.

In verbal communication, there are generally two indicators that distinguish between the two versions:

  1. In the first version, there is a slight pause in speech between home and because. Normally, there is a 1–1 correspondence between a written comma and a verbal pause—although this is not always the case. The pause can also be shown by making it two complete sentences.

  2. In the second version, if the reason is not the rain itself, emphasis will commonly be put on the word because or the word raining—although that is also not always the case:

    She didn't come home because it was raining.
    She didn't come home because it was raining.

If there is neither pause nor emphasis to signal the meaning, then it's only possible to infer the meaning from context. But if that's not possible, then the only recourse is to ask the person what they meant.

  • How could I thank you more for your professional answer, which explains in detail and is easy to understand for a person like me, non native speakers of English. Amazing!
    – Takashi
    Jul 14, 2020 at 1:04

I would interpret it as 1. I would most likely hear this as a cause and effect.

The effect:

  • "She didn't come home"

The Cause:

  • "it was raining"

"because" is what gives me the clue that everything after "because" caused everything before "because".

  • Thanks Jason. I wonder if what you explained is general perception for most native speakers or how people interpret it simply depends on the person who hear this.
    – Takashi
    Jul 12, 2020 at 7:36
  • I think we tend to resolve ambiguity by looking for context, e.g. someone says "I didn't punch him because he has red hair". 1. Do we know if he actually did or did not punch him? 2. Has he said he hates or likes red haired people? Etc. Jul 12, 2020 at 9:32
  • @Michael, That makes sense, but I thought that there could be some cases we cannot find any apparent hint from the context, so I wanted to ask what your first interpretation would most probably be when you just hear the sentence alone.
    – Takashi
    Jul 12, 2020 at 10:54
  • I would probably assume that she postponed her journey home because she didn't want to get wet. Jul 12, 2020 at 11:01

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