Anne Curzan at Lingua Franca writes about a phenomenon I’ve noticed but not really thought about: the distinction between the traditional use of hence meaning ‘as a result, for this reason’ as an introduction to full clauses (her example: “Hence, vaccines with enhanced serotype coverage … might be needed to prevent IPD in this age group in the near future”) and its modern use to introduce a noun phrase (“Hence the value of strengthening skills now”). Curzan says:

It will probably come as no surprise to readers that hence is one of the conjunctive adverbs that strongly prefer academic prose over other registers. […] Hence is more comparable in frequency with nevertheless in academic writing (74.50 pmw).

The frequency of hence in spoken language, in comparison, is low. It puts hence in the range of words like validity and contemplate in the spoken section of this database. […]

Despite the formal feel of hence, it seems more colloquial when it introduces a noun phrase rather than a clause. […]

The frequency of hence overall seems to be declining in written American English (it is holding steadier in British English).

I agree that hence “seems more colloquial when it introduces a noun phrase rather than a clause,” and in fact if I use it that way I feel like I do when I use fun as an adjective (“a fun time”). But I’m happy if people use it at all, since it’s a useful little word (with a fun etymology: it’s the obsolete adverb hen plus the adverbial genitive suffix -(e)s, as in –wards). Do you use it, and if so do you use it to introduce a noun phrase or only a clause?


  1. Timothy Buchheim says

    I use it with clauses. I could imagine using it with a noun phrase in a humorous way, just as I might with the now common “because noun phrase” construction.

  2. Pretty sure I use it both ways (in writing anyway). But I find it most useful when teaching Latin adverbs of place, since it’s an excellent mnemonic for the false cognate hinc.

  3. I could imagine using it with a noun phrase in a humorous way, just as I might with the now common “because noun phrase” construction.

    Yes, that’s a better analogy than my “fun.”

  4. I have no problem with Hence + NP. I think it arises by the following progression (logical, not diachronic):

    1) There are many home invasions here, hence I purchased a dog.

    This nominalizes to:

    2) There are many home invasions here, hence my purchase of a dog.

    This can be ellipsized:

    3) There are many home invasions here, hence my dog.

    Any of these can then be split into a full sentence and a fragment. I think all the examples in the article are of these types. “Vaccines” is type 1, “Putin” is type 3, “essay contest” and “Rumsfeld” are of type 2, “open seat” is type 3.

    (I’ve posted this at the article, but it’s in the moderation queue.)

  5. John, I’d lean toward using a semicolon rather than a comma before the hences in your examples.

  6. > adverbial genitive suffix -(e)s, as in –wards

    I’m curious what an adverbial genitive is. If I’m looking at the right entry, Wiktionary just says “(not productive) used in the formation of certain English adverbs”


    In Danish, we have “hen” for movement to a location and “henne” for a stationary location. Based on my knowledge of German grammar (noun endings and the cases controlled by the an-auf-hinter prepositions), I’m guessing the former is some sort of accusative and the latter is some sort of dative. We have no “hens”, so I’m struggling to imagine how that would be used if it existed.

  7. The original meaning of the adverbial genitive in words like “hence”, “thence”, “whence” is ablative = “from here / there / where”. There is also an adverbial genitive in German, but its meaning is indicating a location in time: morgens “in the morning, during mornings”, abends “in the evening, during evenings”.

  8. Come to think of it, whither can also be used with an NP: Whither linguistics?. This is hardly colloquial, though, unlike the hence usage.

    My feeling about these is that they’re clauses with elided verbs rather than nominalizations: hence [came] the idea, whither [goes] linguistics?

  9. I’m surprised by the frequency in speech. I doubt I’ve ever spoken “hence”, and I’m sure I’ve spoken “validity”.

  10. @dainichi, it seems that hen in Danish is a borrowing from German, and henne is formed on analogy with ud/ude, hjem/hjemme usw. (Semantically allative/locative pairs).

    Danish does have a specialized deictic and determinative hin, now obsolete, which goes back to Runic Norse. But it is not clear from my source if it’s Common Germanic nor whether it’s related to hence.

    EDIT: Supposedly the same as Gothic hina and PIE *k´im.

  11. Some years ago, many were the sentences I spoke with “validity” in them, and even more with “well-formedness”. And at the same period I affirmed “schemas” as the plural of “schema”, treading the middle way between the too-learned “schemata” and the barbarous zero plural.

  12. This type of construction is hardly recent. Milton, Samson Agonistes:

    His lot unfortunate in nuptial choice,
    From whence captivity and loss of eyes.

  13. My wobbly introspection says that I am more likely to use hence+NP than hence+clause; certainly in speech and perhaps even in writing, The alternative conjunctions for clauses (so, thus, therefore) are not (for me) idiomatic with NPs.

  14. Jim (another one) says

    “My feeling about these is that they’re clauses with elided verbs rather than nominalizations: hence [came] the idea, whither [goes] linguistics?”

    I do too. it’s a better explanation for “I have been robbed more than once, hence the gun.”

  15. Non-native with plenty of exposure to academic prose here. I use hence both ways (“hence the name ‘sardine clouds’”) – in fact I think the NP use is the prototypical one for me.

  16. Another word that can do much the same elision thing is “why”. As in “Why the long face?”

  17. How so? What now?

  18. J.W. Brewer says

    According to some random anecdotal complaint I just saw via social media (whose veracity I have made no attempt to confirm), “hence” is a dangerous word to use in an academic assignment if your professor wrongly assumes based on your ethnic/class background that it’s too hifalutin’ to really be part of your idiolect so you must have been plagiarizing via cut-and-paste from something you found on the internet. https://vivatiffany.wordpress.com/2016/10/27/academia-love-me-back/

  19. I am a native and I agree with Leo – “hence NP” feels more natural to me than “hence CLAUSE”.

  20. David Marjanović says

    it seems that hen in Danish is a borrowing from German

    German has hin “to somewhere else than here”, which has pretty much become a separable verb prefix (wohin gehst du > wo gehst du hin “where are you going”). The opposite is her “to here”, whence daher, which I’d immediately use to translate “hence” in the examples.

    The actual ablative forms, cognate with hence & thence, are obsolete outside of poetic language, and even there only occur with historically redundant von: von hinnen, von dannen. Their etymology is explained here on pp. 85–91.

  21. Stephen C. Carlson says

    I looked at my own published writing, and I found that I don’t use either hence-construction mentioned here but a third one involving and hence. Here’s an example: “Transcriptionally, the ἂν ἦν reading is the most unusual and hence the mostly likely to be changed.”

  22. In Indian English, “hence” is very common. That is in written English. I’m not sure whether it is so common in spoken English.

    The difference between spoken Indian English and written Indian English could probably generate a PhD thesis or two.

    I’m not saying that things are different elsewhere, it just so happens that I have a lot of experience with Indian English and its peculiarities.

    This would be an example where non-native speakers use a construction much more than native speakers, I don’t know but it would an interesting thing to track.

  23. Sounds like someone should do the needful and track it.

  24. I remember maths tests with two-part questions: “assume x. prove y. Hence or otherwise prove z.” Woe betide the student who tried to prove z otherwise.

  25. If it’s good enough for Maude Lebowski, it’s good enough for me.
    “My father’s weakness is vanity, hence the slut.”

  26. Hence is at the center of an appalling story of prejudice on the part of a teacher: Latina College Student Used ‘Hence’ In Paper, Is Accused Of Plagiarism. (Appalling not so much because of this one incident, bad as it is, but because it’s obviously just one example of a widespread attitude. Good words are for good people; lowlifes should stick to low words!)

  27. January First-of-May says

    The first comment on the original article says: “Interesting that all these uses are synonyms for thus or therefore.”

    I noticed the same thing – while I don’t think I really use “hence” at all (though at a frequency of one in several hundred thousand words, it’s perfectly possible that I just never had the opportunity), I can probably replace it with “thus” in most of the examples with essentially the same meaning (though I’d need more context to be sure whether it would work in the “vaccines” example, and I can’t make sense of the “strengthening skills” example at all).

    OTOH, that other linked article is ridiculous. It’s not like it’s that fancy of a word, anyway.

  28. For what it’s worth, I once got closely questioned at DLI based on how well I wrote Spanish.

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