1. a person or thing that acts, happens, or exists in such a way that some specific thing happens as a result; the producer of an effect: You have been the cause of much anxiety. What was the cause of the accident?
  2. the reason or motive for some human action: The good news was a cause for rejoicing.
  3. good or sufficient reason: to complain without cause; to be dismissed for cause.
  4. Law.
    1. a ground of legal action; the matter over which a person goes to law.
    2. a case for judicial decision.
  5. any subject of discussion or debate.
  6. a principle, ideal, goal, or movement to which a person or group is dedicated: the Socialist cause; the human rights cause.
  7. the welfare of a person or group, seen as a subject of concern: support for the cause of the American Indian.
  8. Philosophy.
    1. the end or purpose for which a thing is done or produced.
    2. Aristotelianism.any of the four things necessary for the movement or the coming into being of a thing, namely a material (material cause), something to act upon it (efficient cause), a form taken by the movement or development (formal cause), and a goal or purpose (final cause).

verb (used with object), caused, caus·ing.

  1. to be the cause of; bring about.

  1. make common cause, to unite in a joint effort; work together for the same end: They made common cause with neighboring countries and succeeded in reducing tariffs.


  1. a person, thing, event, state, or action that produces an effect
  2. grounds for action; motive; justificationshe had good cause to shout like that
  3. the ideals, etc, of a group or movementthe Communist cause
  4. the welfare or interests of a person or group in a disputethey fought for the miners’ cause
  5. a matter of widespread concern or importancethe cause of public health
    1. a ground for legal action; matter giving rise to a lawsuit
    2. the lawsuit itself
  6. (in the philosophy of Aristotle) any of four requirements for a thing’s coming to be, namely material (material cause), its nature (formal cause), an agent (efficient cause), and a purpose (final cause)
  7. make common cause with to join with (a person, group, etc) for a common objective


  1. (tr) to be the cause of; bring about; precipitate; be the reason for

late 14c., “produce an effect,” also “impel, compel,” from Old French causer “to cause” (13c.) and directly from Medieval Latin causare, from Latin causa “a cause; a reason; interest; judicial process, lawsuit,” of unknown origin. Related: Caused; causing. Classical Latin causari meant “to plead, to debate a question.”


c.1200, “reason for action, grounds for action; motive,” from Old French cause “cause, reason; lawsuit, case in law” (12c.), and directly from Latin causa “a cause; a reason; interest; judicial process, lawsuit,” of unknown origin.

In English, sense of “matter of concern; side taken in controversy” is from c.1300; that of “the source of an effect” is early 14c.; meaning “reason for something taking place” is late 14c. Cause célèbre “celebrated legal case” is 1763, from French. Cause why? “for what reason?” is in Chaucer.

In addition to the idioms beginning with cause

  • cause a commotion
  • cause raised eyebrows

also see:

  • lost cause
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