Maybe this question is needlessly elementary, but I can't help but ask - Is there any difference between потому and поэтому either in terms of definition or usage? They both tend to be translated most often as 'therefore,' but is there any noteworthy difference in definition between them or something to note when one word is chosen over the other (for example a stylistic difference)? Any information about their respective etymologies would be interesting as well.

  • See Alex_ander's and romaklimenko's short answers. Passages about "emphatic" and "focuses on the cause" need to be ignored. – Victor Bazarov Nov 7 '15 at 12:49
  • @VictorBazarov Counter-examples is one way you could go about debunking what you feel is invented complexity. Which I'm sure I would have got plenty by now, had I been making things up. This, on the other hand, seems more like a voicing of resentment that this tryhard is ruining it for those folks who've been having such a great time sounding smart just by virtue of speaking the language natively. – Nikolay Ershov Nov 11 '15 at 7:57
  • @VictorBazarov: please watch your language. – Quassnoi Nov 11 '15 at 14:05
  • I promise to watch your answers closer. – Victor Bazarov Nov 11 '15 at 14:13

Not an elementary question at all.

The difference is this: поэтому presents the consequence as the new and/or important part of the message, whereas потому focuses more on the cause ("and that was why..."). That focus is very often strengthened by the "emphatic" pre-verbal и:

На нём была куртка, поэтому я решил, что он зашёл с улицы.

"He was wearing a jacket, so I thought he'd come in from outside." [And that led to something later in the story, or is just an aside.]

На нём была куртка, потому я и решил, что он зашёл с улицы.

"He was wearing a jacket, and that's why I thought he'd come in from outside." ["Okay, I failed to spot a lurking criminal, but how was I supposed to know? He did put on a convincing act."]

In the second example, поэтому я и решил is also possible — and, in fact, more likely in the vernacular (where потому is rarely used outside of потому что, which is for all intents and purposes a different expression). But using потому always gives you a more explicit focus on the cause rather than the consequence.

As for the etymologies, they're very simple: the preposition по plus the dative of это and то, respectively. Here, по carries its older meaning of "after" or "following".

  • Unnecessarily convoluted, pretense to a scientific-ness. Stats with a statement that there is a difference, and ends with "you can use either". See romaklimenko's answer. There is no difference. – Victor Bazarov Nov 7 '15 at 12:45
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    @VictorBazarov When you can use потому, you can also use поэтому; which still leaves a great many cases where you would only use поэтому. That's very much a difference for anyone observant enough. And if anything, I've skipped some details rather than given too many. There's also the less frequent usage of потому to mark intent, i.e. a conscious link between cause and consequence. romaklimenko's answer only addresses the etymology. Nothing about поэтому/потому mirrors the near-far dichotomy of это/то in any meaningful way. – Nikolay Ershov Nov 7 '15 at 13:02

Probably, the most clear difference in usage is that "поэтому" always follows the already expressed reason for something, while "потому" (unless it's a part of undivided "потому что") can precede it as well. E.g. you can't use "поэтому" in this sentence:

Я потому так поступил, что это мне велел начальник.

But you can use either word in a sentence beginning with the explanation of reasons:

Начальник это мне велел, и потому я это сделал (= поэтому я так и сделал).

I may be wrong but for me it sounds like:

  • это = this
  • то = that

And this is why:

  • поэтому = because of this
  • потому = because of that

Also @Alex_ander's answer makes perfect sense for me.

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