What is cause and effect?

Every action has a reaction, shaping stories and real life alike

Chal Emery

January 19, 2024

What is cause and effect?

Every action has a reaction, shaping stories and real life alike

Chal Emery

Jan 19, 2024

What is cause and effect?

Every action has a reaction, shaping stories and real life alike

Chal Emery

Jan 19, 2024

Key takeaways

  • You get what you give – Cause and effect is all about understanding the consequences of choices characters make.
  • The results are not always clear – Sometimes the effects of an action take time to pop up, or they may look much different than you expected.
  • Determine trends and patterns – Understanding cause and effect can make predicting outcomes much easier, helping you foresee events and understand them before they even happen.

Cause and effect functions broadly as a way of understanding the world. Things may seem like they just happen at random sometimes, but there is always an underlying cause that you may just not know about yet. Once you understand the oftentimes complex relationship between cause and effect, you are one step closer to understanding the way the world works. 

What is cause and effect?

Simply put, cause and effect is all about identifying an event, action, choice or the like and then being able to point out the consequences and/or results. The relationship between cause and effect can be a simple one like taking out an umbrella keeping you dry in the rain or far more complex like tracking how a new law affects the national economy.  

So what exactly does cause and effect mean?

Cause and effect is a broad term that varies depending on the subject matter at hand. History, science, literature and daily life all define cause and effect and study it a little differently. Regardless of subject, though, cause and effect is important to understand if you want to grasp the relationships between things. 

Examples of cause and effect

Depending on the subject you are studying, cause and effect might look a little different. Explaining how a cause connects to its effect is at the heart of understanding how facts and details connect within any topic.  

History examples

History is all about understanding the present by exploring the sequence of events and choices that led the world to where it is now. Questions like “Why is this the way things are?” or “How did this moment in history influence things to come?” are all about cause and effect. The answers can sometimes be very complicated and debatable, but that is what the study of history is all about. 

  • Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941, so the United States entered World War II. This attack is cited as a specific reason for why America declared war on Japan, so the attack is a clear cause.  
  • The Black Death killed millions of people during the medieval period, so the remaining workers were more valuable, leading to more workers rights. This is a more complex example of cause and effect. Many people died during this pandemic, but since so few people were left to farm and produce things, their labour was much more valuable. This gave them more rights and power, which, in part, led to a revolution in how the European economy worked. 
  • Chaucer wrote The Canterbury Tales in English, which led to greater acceptance of the language in academic fields. English was long-considered a base language, and Latin was better suited for academics. Chaucer wrote an immensely influential work in English, which helped legitimise using English in more academic settings. 
  • The Magna Carta was signed in 1215, which established the rule of law, changing how governments operated. The Magna Carta established that no one is above the law, and this changed how much power those in power held. This would eventually lead to the formation of the systems of government we have today.  
  • Man discovers fire and paves the way for civilization. One of the oldest instances of cause and effect is how dramatically human history was changed by man’s ability to harness fire. Fire allowed food to be prepared safely, darkness to be dispelled and all other inventions to follow suit.  

Science examples

Science asks more from the relationship between cause and effect. In this subject, people need to present hard evidence and logic when stating that one thing causes another. Science aims to be more objective where other fields are naturally more subjective. 

  • Plants photosynthesise, so they grow in the sunlight. Plant cells need sunlight to make food, so we can see how they grow better depending on how much sunlight they get. 
  • Pollution traps heat in the atmosphere, which leads to higher global temperatures. The planet is heated by energy from the sun lingering in the atmosphere, so more material in the form of pollution trapping that energy leads to higher temperatures. 
  • Animals with beneficial characteristics survive and reproduce, which leads to those characteristics being passed down through the generations. Evolution is all about cause and effect. Individuals that are better suited for their environment live, which causes that species to change over time to reflect such beneficial characteristics.  
  • Getting sick or vaccinated trains your immune system to fight illnesses better, so you don’t get sick as often or as severely. Our immune system learns how to fight off illness through experience, so being exposed to a virus through illness or a vaccine causes our bodies to become better at fighting them off. 
  • Water molecules are special, so we get things like surface tension and snowflakes. The way that the atoms of water molecules are arranged makes water behave in unique ways, binding them together. This leads to the crystalline formations of snowflakes and the way the surface of water is able to “stick” to itself.  

Literature and narrative

Cause and effect in literature revolves around character choices. Any good story is shaped by the decisions characters make and how they react to the consequences of said choices.  

  • Gatsby in The Great Gatsby wants to become worthy of the wealthy girl he loves, so he adopts a whole new persona. Gatsby chooses to use his newfound wealth to impress Daisy, and this obsession causes all sorts of problems for both of them, especially since Daisy is already married. 
  • The girls in the Crucible make accusations, which leads to John Proctor’s execution. The girls in The Crucible want attention and to punish people they do not like, so they make claims of witchcraft. This leads to more and more people making such accusations, which ultimately consume John Proctor’s entire life despite his innocence.
  • The hare thinks he has won the race against the tortoise, so he takes a nap and loses. In this classic fable, the cocky hare thinks he could never lose a race to the slow tortoise, so he naps the race away. This gives the steady and determined tortoise the chance to win.
  • Romeo and Juliet fall in love even though their families hate one another, which leads to their untimely deaths. The feud between the two families in Shakespeare’s famous play creates all sorts of problems, and because Romeo and Juliet dare to love one another despite this hatred, a tragic sequence of misunderstandings leads to their joint suicide.
  • Katniss’ sister’s name is drawn for the dangerous Hunger Games, so she volunteers in her stead. This choice sets off the events of an entire book series because the protagonist is willing to sacrifice herself for her loved ones.

Cause and effect in daily life

There’s also cause and effect in your daily life. If you choose to sleep in instead of getting up on time, you may be late for school. If you study hard and practice, you may do well on a test. Whenever you make a choice, even the smallest ones, there will be some sort of consequence. The nature of these effects might not be immediately obvious, but learning how these effects manifest is a major part of growing up and living.   

Words that signal cause and effect

Cause and effect is everywhere, and if you want to be able to identify the concept quickly, there are plenty of signal words to look for. 

Words that signal a cause

  • Cause 
  • Root of 
  • Origin
  • Source
  • Brings about
  • Because
  • Since

Words that signal an effect

  • Effect
  • Result
  • Consequence
  • Reaction
  • Outcome
  • Ramification

Cause and effect sentences with highlighted signal words

  • Money is the root of all evil.
  • You should have predicted this outcome before you made your choice.
  • Cowardice engenders defeat on multiple levels.
  • The rains will bring about a bountiful harvest.
  • The reaction to the new rule was about as unruly as you would expect.
  • The origin of the current financial problems lies in bad habits.

Explore cause and effect with DoodleEnglish

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Designed by teachers, it creates each child a unique work programme tailored to their needs, boosting their confidence and skills in English. Try it for free today!

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FAQs about cause and effect

Look for signal words like “root” and “result” in sentences. Also, pay attention to when characters make choices or when variables react. What comes next will likely be the effect. 

A cause is the stimulus that brings about some kind of change. This might be a decision someone makes or a new variable being introduced. The effect is the result of that change.  

Signal words like “source” or “seed” indicate that something might be a cause. On the other hand, words like “consequence” or “reaction” often refer to an effect? 

Causality refers to determining the cause and effect relationship between two different events or details. Sometimes the connection is obvious, but there may be hidden or unanticipated effects to a cause. 

Screenshot 2023-10-13 at 16.29.14

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