You probably learned about cause and effect in elementary school. Even young children can understand the relationship between two events. If you disobeyed your mother, you didn’t get dessert. If you failed to study for a test, you got a bad grade. These cause-and-effect relationships are simple and straightforward. But as you continue your education, your language arts teachers may ask you to tackle complex assignments. Many students feel puzzled when they’re asked to write an essay on cause and effect.

Fortunately, cause-and-effect writing follows a simple pattern. With practice, you can master cause-and-effect sentences. You can even string together sentences to create a cause-and-effect paragraph. Before long, you’ll learn to write essays examining cause and effect. These skills support your academic career and boost your professional prospects.

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Ready to get started? Let’s take a look at a few cause-and-effect examples.

Cause-and-effect sentences

Sentences built using cause and effect show a direct relationship between two events. They help readers understand that one event triggered the other. You can identify cause-and-effect sentences by looking for the following words:

Keep in mind that the cause is usually written before the effect. But in some sentences, the writer may list the effect first. No matter how the writer ordered their sentence, the effect can’t happen before the cause. The cause always triggers the effect.

Let’s examine a few sample sentences.

Example 1

It had begun to rain, so Sally and Jake had to run inside.

CauseIt had begun to rain.
EffectSally and Jake had to run inside.
KeywordSo

Example 2

Since it was chilly outside, Benjamin built a big fire in his fireplace.

CauseIt was chilly outside.
EffectBenjamin built a big fire in his fireplace.
KeywordSince

Example 3

The wind blew so hard that the shingles came off the roof.

CauseThe wind blew so hard.
EffectThe shingles came off the roof.
KeywordSo

As you explore cause and effect, you might find it helpful to draw a simple diagram. You can also act out a skit or picture the event in your mind. Look for the first event. That event might be the cause.

Remember that the cause is more than the first event in a series. The cause also triggers the effect. Let’s look at the following example.

Example 4:

It had begun to rain, so Sally and Jake decided to buy ice cream.

This sentence doesn’t make much sense, and it fails to show a cause-and-effect relationship. It’s difficult for readers to determine how the weather might prompt someone to buy ice cream.

We can clear up the confusion by rewriting the sentence: “As they raced home in the rain, Sally and Jake decided to take shelter in the ice cream parlor.”

This sentence makes more sense, and it demonstrates a clear cause and effect. Sally and Jake wanted to get out of the rain, so they decided to duck inside a nearby store. They bought some ice cream while they waited out the storm.

As you proofread your writing, look for sentences that may be confusing or unclear. You may want to rewrite these passages to clarify cause and effect. Watch out for common grammar mistakes, too.

Now let’s look at a few more examples.

Example 5

We went to the grocery store because we needed sour cream, eggs, and milk.

CauseWe needed sour cream, eggs, and milk.
EffectWe went to the grocery store.
KeywordBecause

In this example, we listed the effect before the cause. But note that the effect happened after the cause: the group went to the store because they needed something. Readers may encounter the effect first. But we’re still able to understand the sequence of events. Analyzing cause-and-effect relationships helps us put events in the correct order.

Now let’s look at another example:

Example 6

Jeremy was sick today because Sally went to school the next day with a cold.

CauseSally went to school the next day with a cold.
EffectJeremy was sick today.

This example also lists the effect before the cause. But this time, the sentence doesn’t make much sense. How can Jeremy be sick already? The writer told us that Sarah gives him her cold the next day. Unless Jeremy is a time traveler, he can’t be suffering from something that will happen in the future.

Let’s try to rewrite this sentence to clear up the misunderstanding:

Because Sarah went to school with a cold, she got Jeremy sick.

If you struggle with complex sentences, check out a few more examples here.

Recognizing cause and effect in paragraphs

It’s often easy to spot a cause-and-effect sentence. We can look for keywords like “so” or “because.” These words help to signal a cause-and-effect relationship.

But cause-and-effect sentences don’t always fit this pattern. Sometimes, cause-and-effect relationships spread over several sentences. Students might have a hard time spotting these examples. By rereading the paragraph and taking notes, we can spot the cause and effect.

Let’s practice again. Review the sentences below. They don’t have the signal words listed above, so try looking for other cues:

Example 7

When I dropped my mug, it shattered on the tile floor.

CauseI dropped my mug
EffectIt shattered

Example 8

If you overfeed your cat, he will gain weight.

CauseOverfeeding the cat
EffectThe cat gains weight

Although these sentences don’t include signal words, we can still identify a cause-and-effect relationship. In each sentence, two different actions occur. One of the actions causes the other.

Now let’s look at an example of a cause-and-effect paragraph:

Example 9

Michelle slept through her alarm clock and left her apartment in a rush. As she hurried down the sidewalk, she looked at her phone to check her email. She tripped over the curb and sprained her ankle.

In this example, we see a chain of events. Michelle took several actions, and they led to an unfortunate outcome. Let’s go through these events again:

What caused Michelle’s accident? Some readers might argue that checking her phone caused her to trip. If she had paid attention, she might not have fallen.

But we can also identify other possible causes. Michelle was in a hurry, so she decided to check her phone. She was in a hurry because she overslept. If these events hadn’t occurred, she might not have sprained her ankle.

In academic essays, students often examine complex cause-and-effect relationships. Your teacher may ask you to begin by reading a long passage. Then, they might ask you to determine a cause-and-effect relationship for the material. This can be a challenge, but taking notes makes the process easier. You might also find it helpful to create a timeline of events.

In the example above, we identified three separate events. Then we examined the link between each event. We considered possible causes for the final outcome. This technique can help you analyze written passages.

Sometimes, it might also help to start at the effect and work backward. Let’s try that with the following example.

Example 10

Jessie planted an apple tree near his garage. After a few years, the tree was struck by lightning. The lightning bolt fractured the trunk. Over time, the tree rotted. Last summer, the tree fell, and a falling branch broke the garage window.

Several events happened in this short paragraph. As you read, you might have trouble tracking a cause-and-effect relationship. Let’s identify the outcome: The garage window broke.

Now let’s work backward to trace the chain of events:

Imagine that our teacher asked us what caused Jessie’s broken window. We might point to the lightning strike. If lightning didn’t strike the tree, it might not have fallen.

But we might also argue that Jessie planted the apple tree too close to the garage. If he had planted the tree somewhere else, the broken tree wouldn’t have hit the window. Jessie’s actions might have played a role in the outcome.

As you identify cause-and-effect relationships, start with the outcome. Then ask yourself, “Why?” Why did the branch fall? Why did the tree become rotten? Keep asking yourself “why” until you trace the full sequence of events. If you need more practice, try these sample paragraphs.

Sometimes, you might come across an effect that has several possible causes. The situation above is a good example. We discussed several actions that led to the broken window. If you’re not sure which cause triggered the effect, try sorting the causes into categories. We discuss different types of causes in the section below.

Immediate cause vs. root cause vs. concurrent cause

The primary cause of the outcome is the root cause. The immediate cause occurs nearest to the effect. Concurrent causes can happen at the same time and play a role.

Let’s look at this example:

The city of Midvale experienced a severe wildfire last summer. Experts traced the outbreak to a dry patch of forest. In this area, a buildup of twigs and branches provided fuel for the wildfire. During the last few years, Midvale has suffered extreme drought conditions. City officials blamed climate change for the decreasing rainfall.

It’s easy to identify the effect in this paragraph: Midvale had a severe wildfire. Now let’s reread the paragraph and determine a cause.

We might classify the dry patch of forest as the immediate cause. The fire broke out in this region when dry trees caught fire. We can classify the drought as the root cause. The trees were dry because the town hadn’t received much rainfall.

Climate change might be a concurrent cause. City officials claim that climate change played a role in this fire, but it’s hard to know for sure. It might have contributed to the low rainfall in Midvale.

Imagine that your high school teacher asked you to write an essay about this scenario. What would you identify as the root cause of the fire? What argument would you make to support your point?

Cause-and-effect essays

There are three types of cause-and-essays that you might encounter in the classroom. The first type is a cause/effect essay. This essay explains why something happened and what resulted from this event. In this type of essay, writers choose a topic. Then they explore both the causes and effects of their subject.

The second type is a cause essay. In this essay, the writer discusses many different reasons that something happened. They might explore many causes related to a single effect.

The final type is an effect essay. An effect essay focuses on different events and outcomes linked to a single cause.

Let’s look at some example topics for the three types of essays.

Cause/effect topics:

Cause topics:

Effect topics:

Writers can explore many different topics through cause-and-effect essays. If you’re not sure what to write about, make a list of subjects you’re passionate about. For example, you might write about the health benefits of your favorite sport. In this situation, playing sports serves as the cause. The health benefits serve as the effect.

Next steps 

Need more help with essay writing? Udemy offers a variety of courses to get your writing where you want it to be. You’ll want to look for courses that provide prompts or suggested topics so that you can practice while you learn. 

If you’re not yet sure about where you want to start, get a glimpse of what you can learn in our blogs on similes and metaphors, spelling rules, and English grammar fundamentals.

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