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a. He refused to close his bar because of the pandemic.

b. He refused to close his bar because there was a pandemic.

Are the above sentences grammatically correct, and do they make sense?

The intended meaning is:

  1. He had to close his bar because of the pandemic and he refused to do it.

and not

  1. Because of the pandemic, he refused to close his bar.

I think both (a) and (b) are technically ambiguous, but within the given context, the absurd meaning would be immediately rejected.

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    I can't put my finger on it, but I would read (a) as "He refused to close the bar despite the pandemic", but for b) it registered as the absurd meaning first. Although technically, both are the same. I can't exactly tell you why they sound different, to me at least.
    – Polygnome
    Aug 10 '20 at 11:27
  • 1
    He refused to open or close his bar because of the pandemic. I see nothing wrong with it at all. Of course, it could be rewritten all sorts of way. Both work semantically.
    – Lambie
    Aug 12 '20 at 20:41
46

Both of the sentences are grammatical, but you're right that they are either ambiguous or don't mean what you want them to mean.

To make the meaning explicitly clear, use despite instead of because:

  • He refused to close his bar despite the pandemic.

Alternatively, it could be said in the following ways::

  • He refused to let the pandemic close his bar.
  • He refused to close his bar during the pandemic.
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  • 21
    "He refused to let the pandemic close his bar" sounds more like he worked hard and took steps to make sure he was able to keep operating through the pandemic, rather than refusing a mandatory order to close. Aug 10 '20 at 12:51
  • 1
    @crazyloonybin If you want to be specific, you can replace pandemic with mandatory pandemic directives (or something like that). But that's a different question. (Note that it wouldn't make sense to use such a replacement in the third example sentence I provided.) Aug 10 '20 at 17:36
  • in spite of might be appropriate also, depending on whether the bar owner is deliberately defying [common sense/a lawful order to close] or not.
    – asgallant
    Aug 10 '20 at 18:47
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    Maybe it's local to me (New England), but X in spite of Y implies that the act X was done with spite towards Y, whereas X despite Y implies the act X was done without regard for Y. The difference can be seen with "Karen did not wear a face mask despite the pandemic" vs "Karen coughed in the faces of store patrons in spite of the pandemic".
    – asgallant
    Aug 10 '20 at 22:36
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    @asgallant "in spite of" does not mean "spitefully" as far as I'm aware.
    – CJ Dennis
    Aug 10 '20 at 22:50
6

He refused to close his bar because of the pandemic.
He refused to close his bar because there was a pandemic.

He gave the pandemic as a reason for refusing to closing his bar.

He refused to close his bar [just] because of the pandemic.
He refused to close his bar [just] because there was a pandemic.

Even though there was a pandemic happening, he refused to close his bar. He explicitly denied that as a good enough reason for closing his bar. He played down the seriousness of the pandemic and decided not to shut his bar.

However, the meaning you are after is most likely "despite"

He refused to close his bar despite the pandemic.
He refused to close his bar despite there being a pandemic.

So, yes, both original sentences are grammatical, but their strict literal meaning is not the same as their looser assumed meaning. Some people would reject the "absurd" reason, but others wouldn't. "Before the pandemic happened he was planning on retiring and closing his bar, but then he thought it would be a place of refuge, so he refused to close his bar because of the pandemic." Just because we don't agree with someone else's thinking, doesn't mean we should label it "absurd" and assume they could never think it, and assume that other people wouldn't find it reasonable either.

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  • Or even, "Despite the pandemic, he refused to close his bar."
    – David K
    Aug 11 '20 at 12:56
  • He refused to close his bar just because there was a pandemic. There's no need to rephrase with despite; adding just clears up the intent.
    – Rich
    Aug 12 '20 at 20:39
  • I don't think adding "just" removes the ambiguity at all. All it achieves is to say that the pandemic was the only reason, there was no other. It doesn't help us know whether the pandemic was the reason for the closure or the reason for the refusal; we're still left to guess on the basis that pandemics are more likely to cause closure than to cause refusal. Aug 13 '20 at 10:26
3

To my ear the first tends to the intended, and the second to the "absurd" meaning. The reason is that structurally they are both ambiguous and admit both meanings.

For example:

He refused to close his bar because there was a horde of thirsty patrons.

Here the contextual hint makes it clear that the "absurd" construction is meant.

Similarly:

He refused to close his clinic, because of the medical needs caused by the pandemic. (I used a comma here too, as an extra hint.)

To disambiguate you have several choices. There is nuance in them though.

He refused to close the bar... ...despite the pandemic. - indicates that there is force in the reason, but it is overridden. ...for a mere pandemic. - indicates that he considers pandemics minor. ...just for the pandemic. - more reason would be needed. ...for this pandemic. - maybe for some other pandemic, and so forth.

2

Both your versions are ambiguous since “because” could attach either to “refused” or to “close”. Adding extra words after “because” doesn’t solve that problem.

A reader faced with this will likely conclude that “because” attaches to the nearer of the two verbs, which is also (I hope) the intended meaning. We see how this works when we move “because” nearer to “refused” and the absurd meaning now seems more likely:

  • He refused because of the pandemic to close his bar.
  • Because of the pandemic, he refused to close his bar.

Because the writer didn’t do this, we can assume the non-absurd meaning was intended.

If you change “because” to “despite”, all of the interpretations have the same meaning, so this would be preferred:

  • He refused to close his bar despite the pandemic.
  • He refused despite the pandemic to close his bar.
  • Despite the pandemic, he refused to close his bar.
1
  • I don't think "despite" helps, it's still ambiguous. "He closed his bar despite the pandemic" and "He refused despite the pandemic" both make sense (logically if not epidemiologically), and "He refused to close his bar despite the pandemic" could mean either. Aug 13 '20 at 10:34
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A) is perfect idiomatic English and means what you think it does. His course of action is to stay open, the pandemic was a negative in that decision, but not negative enough.

The idiom is a negated negative-sounding word (examples below) followed by "because of". Whatever comes next is a reason against, but not strong enough. I did a search for some examples using: [don't "because of a"]. You can see they follow the pattern:

"Don't miss out because of a first impression", "Don't ruin a good today because of a bad yesterday", "Don't punish all who need help because of a few who cheat", "Don't turn away business because of a pet!", "Don't quit because of a vindictive person". I also found "I'm not going to lose him because of money". Losing is bad, not losing is a double-negative, so it's understood to be a lack of money, not that they will use their vast wealth to keep him.

Over to B). That's not as good since it's nothing special. They avoided using the well-understood "because of". Maybe they avoided it since that's not what they meant to say. So now we have to decide whether the pandemic was a a positive tipping factor, or a not-good-enough reason against.

For a contrasting examples, suppose some music started playing, after which we decided to stay where where we are. "I'll stay because of the music" is easy -- it's the reason we're staying. "I won't leave because of the music" means we're staying in spite of it. "I won't leave because that music is playing" is less clear and probably only makes sense in a larger context.

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    It's not really a double-negative. "close" has a negative meaning, but it's not grammatically negative. Aug 11 '20 at 2:54
  • @Acccumulation Hmmm...I 'm noticing you didn't have a better name for it either. I'll try "negated negative-sounding word" and abbreviation "negated negative" (negative is still wrong there, but doesn't have the baggage of double-negative). Aug 12 '20 at 17:37
-2

A and B don't necessarily make sense.

Both mean that he didn't close his bar BECAUSE of the pandemic. Which would mean, due to the pandemic, he didn't close his bar. That isn't true.

The simplest and a good way to put it is "Even though there was a pandemic going on, he didn't close his bar"

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