When you start learning French, you don’t have to wait long to get familiar with the expression parce que. You learn early in the process that it means “because”.
But as time passes, you start seeing another version of it here and there, spelled par ce que. Are they variations on the same theme? You’re not sure. That extra space bothers you – is this a typo, or is there more to the story?
Well, it pays to be attentive, because that added tiny space does make a difference. Parce que and par ce que mean two different things in French, and it’s not a subtle difference.
Spoiler alert: these two forms don’t have anything to do with each other (or at least not anymore), so it’s super important to learn to tell them apart. Read on to do just that!
The meaning of parce que
Even though it’s written in two words, parce que simply means “because”. (In some contexts, you can also translate it as “as” or “since” – the words you can also substitute for “because” in English).
Je te dis ça parce que je suis ton ami. = I say that to you because I’m your friend.
Elle est ici parce que je l’ai invitée. = She’s here because I invited her.
Je l’ai fait parce que j’y étais obligé. = I did it because I was obliged to do it.
Elle m’a appelée parce que je me sentais seule. = She called me because I felt lonely.
Parce que can be abbreviated as pcq.
The meaning of par ce que
Par ce que can have a number of different translations based on your actual sentence. Most often, though, its exact English equivalent will be “by what”, “in what”, and “with what”. That doesn’t really help, does it? In order to make sense of it, you’ll need to take a look at some full sentences.
Elles semblaient intéressées par ce qu’elle avait à dire. = They seemed interested in what she had to say.
Je suis enthousiasmé par ce que vous avez fait. = I am excited by what you’ve done.
Commençons par ce que nous savons. = Let’s start with what we know.
You can probably already see what’s happening here. While reading the above sentences, your brain will naturally want to separate par ce que into two parts:
(…) par + ce que
Ce que, which we can translate as the single word “what”, is a common sight in French: it counts as a relative pronoun. Knowing this gives you the key to understanding par ce que.
|In sentences that contain par ce que, the preposition par (meaning “by”, “through”, “via”) just happens to get placed right next to ce que. This means par ce que is not actually an expression, even if it looks like one.|
Let’s take a look at the above sentences again:
Ils semblaient intéressés par + ce qu’elle avait à dire. = They seemed interested in + what she had to say.
Je suis enthousiasmé par + ce que vous avez fait. = I am excited by + what you’ve done. (Or: What you’ve done fills me with enthousiasm.)
Commençons par + ce que nous savons. = Let’s start with + what we know.
As you can see, in these sentences the word par is actually attached to the word standing before it:
|être intéressé par qc||to be interested in sg|
|être enthousiasmé par qc||to be excited by sg|
|commencer par qc||to start with sg|
How to decide whether parce que or par ce que is the appropriate spelling
That’s really easy. Just ask yourself whether the sentence explains something or gives a reason. Would you use the word “because” in English? If yes, your sentence needs parce que.
If you’re still in doubt, though, there’s another handy method you can use. It involves asking a question. Let’s say you’re wondering which spelling to use in the following sentence:
Elle est surprise [par ce que] / [parce que] tu dis.
To decide, just determine which of these two questions your sentence answers:
1. Pourquoi… ?
– Pourquoi est-elle surprise ? = Why is she surprised?
– Elle est surprise
parce que tu dis. – doesn’t make sense!
2. Par quoi…?
– Par quoi est-elle surprise ? = By what is she surprised?
– Elle est surprise par + ce que tu dis. = She’s surprised by + what you’re saying. – That works! You’ll have to go with par ce que.
The bottom line
|When you come across par ce que, you actually see a preposition and a relative pronoun that happen to get placed next to each other in a sentence, and you’ll translate it according to the context. It’s not an expression in its own right. Parce que, however, is: it means “because”.|
If you’re interested in more “difference between” articles like this one, you can find them here.
And check out this article on other important expressions with que in French. They’re super useful!