How’s ‘Hence’?

HENCEA few days ago a friend and I were texting back and forth about getting training in public speaking, and she wrote:

I think there will be more requests. Hence the value of strengthening skills now. (Does anyone use “hence” anymore??)

I would guess she meant this as a rhetorical question, but there are few if any rhetorical questions about language around me. I decided to look into the health of hence, outside the academy.

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. In the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA), the frequency of hence is 66.29 per million words (pmw) in academic prose, vs. 16.17 in magazines, 7.01 in fiction, 6.17 in newspapers, and 2.86 in spoken language. How common is 66.29 pmw? The conjunctive adverb therefore is more than four times as common as hence in academic prose at 278.03 pmw; thus comes in at a whopping 473.70 pmw in this register. 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.

Frequency isn’t the only difference, though. In academic prose, sentence-initial hence appears regularly as an introduction to full clauses, as in this example from the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases (2015):

Hence, vaccines with enhanced serotype coverage (higher valency) might be needed to prevent IPD in this age group in the near future.

In spoken language, sentence-initial hence regularly introduces just a noun phrase. Hence, a sentence fragment. Here are three examples from COCA:

He [Putin] is going to do whatever it takes to put his country in the best position possible. Hence, Crimea, now Ukraine. (Fox, 2014)

Hence the idea for this whole essay contest. (CBS The Early Show, 2007)

Hence, Secretary Rumsfeld’s presence in the region as we speak. (CNN, 2002)

We can find this use in newspapers too, such as this example from The Washington Post:

That means Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) can’t count on changing state law to be able to run for president and Senate at the same time. Hence, a possible open seat.

Despite the formal feel of hence, it seems more colloquial when it introduces a noun phrase rather than a clause. And this is the way my friend uses hence in her text.

The frequency of hence overall seems to be declining in written American English (it is holding steadier in British English), if the Google Books Ngram Viewer is accurate of overall trends (see the chart below).

hence copy

Of course, the Ngram Viewer doesn’t tell us anything about texting or talking. We’ll see in the years hence (sorry, I couldn’t help myself) if hence can hold onto this little semi-colloquial niche to introduce a noun phrase.

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