Grammar

The ‘Due to’ Error, Better Explained

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We all have our little grammatical pet peeves. One of mine is the errant use of the phrase “due to.” I learned to despise this little two word monstrosity during the summer before my senior year of high school, when I attended a journalism workshop at USC.

USC. That’s the University of South Carolina, just so you know.

Due to easily earned the wrath of the instructor on copyediting, and anytime he saw it, he’d pull out the red pencil.

I picked up that dislike from him.  Just the other day, the phrase due to was used in a news story on my station three times.  Three times!  In the same story!

The official explanation is that due to is only grammatically correct when it is used as an adjective phrase, not an adverb phrase. That is to say, due to is supposed to modify a noun, not a verb.

But that’s entirely too technical an explanation for most people.

So I’ve settled for this explanation: if you can substitute because of in place of due to and the sentence still makes sense, then because of is the correct choice and due to is incorrect in that sentence.

Recently, I heard an explanation that makes it even more clear:

Due to means “caused by.”

If you write a sentence using due to, and you can substitute the words caused bywithout adding any other words — and the sentence makes sense, then due to is being used correctly.

Here’s a popular one we hear all the time in the workplace:

Due to illness, the supervisor is out of the office today.

For due to to be correctly used, we’d have to be able to have this sentence make sense:

Caused by illness, the supervisor is out of the office today.

And of course, that’s not a grammatically correct sentence. So the sentence would need to be:

Because of illness, the supervisor is out of the office today.

Don’t worry about that thing about not being able to start a sentence with because. You can, as long as it’s a sentence.  “Because I said so” is a case of not being able to start a valid, grammatical sentence with because, since it isn’t a complete sentence.

In our sick supervisor example, to be used correctly, due to must almost always follow a helping verb like is or was. Consider:

The supervisor’s absence was due to illness.

That is correct, because you can substitute caused by and the sentence still makes sense.

Your best bet, in any case, is to avoid due to altogether. It’s not conversational, it doesn’t make you sound more educated, and there’s a 90% chance, any time you use it, that you’re using it incorrectly.

That’s three good reasons to stick with because of and get on with your life.

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5 Comments

  1. JohnBrunelli Thanks, John. Can’t remember which J-school professor pointed it out first, but there’s no escaping it. 🙂

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  2. I thought of you when I spotted a local restaurant’s Facebook post just now. It says “Do to the heat, our patio will open earlier tonight…” Not only did they use the wrong “do” but it was also used incorrectly.

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    1.  @Cathryn (aka Strange) Ha! Thanks for thinking of me! I’d have definitely had to call a manager out on that one: a double whammy like that just SCREAMS to be fixed!  🙂

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  3. Wow! I didn’t even know about this issue! Thank you so much for the “caused by”. That makes perfect sense. I will not allow this error to go out again!

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  4. Wow! I didn’t even know about this issue! Thank you so much for the “caused by”. That makes perfect sense. I will not allow this error to go out again!

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 29 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.