GrammarPet Peeves

A Grammar Issue

I was always involved in my high school newspaper. It wasn’t really part of my wanting to work in television, because I knew even then that I did not want to be a reporter. I just liked working on the paper…it certainly beat sports!

Anyway, at some point along the way, I participated in a summer journalism workshop at USC. (That’s the University of South Carolina, not Southern California…there’s more than one USC in the world, you know!)

Copyediting, which is basically editing stories and headlines for grammatical problems and spelling errors, was something I enjoyed for reasons that I still can’t completely explain. For some reason, one of the tips we were given stuck a little harder than most of the others, and today, it’s one of my biggest pet peeves.

I made reference to it during the most recent edition of the “Saturday Six.” It’s the phrase, “due to.” Many people use it incorrectly. In fact, it’s used incorrectly so often that no one knows when they’re supposed to use it. So, as part of my on-going mission to educate the masses in the dying art of proper English, I’ll give a quick explanation.

Be patient. This is a complicated one.

“Due to,” when used to mean “because of,” is an adverbial phrase.

So you’re already complaining, right? “What the hell is an adverb?” An adverb modifies a verb. An adjective modifies a noun:

The boy chose the large cookie.
He ate the cookie eagerly.

In the first sentence, “large” modifies the noun “cookie,” so “large” is an adjective. In the second sentence, “eagerly” modifies “ate,” a verb, so “eagerly” is an adverb. Simple, right?

Okay…if you’re going to use “due to” to mean “because of,” it must be an adverbial phrase, and it requires a verb like “is.”

Here is an example:

The absence IS DUE TO illness.

What you usually hear or see is something like this:

DUE TO illness, he is not in the office today.

That one is wrong. Part of the problem comes from that little rule those angry schoolmarms jammed into our heads…that rule about never starting a sentence with the word “because.” Actually, you can legitimately begin a sentence with the word “because” if it is a complete sentence. Consider:

HER: You can’t have any more cookies.
HIM: Why?
HER: Because I said so.

“Because I said so” is not a complete sentence…it’s a fragment. (For the more brilliant out there, it’s actually a dependent clause, but I am digressing.)

But here’s a perfectly good sentence that begins with “because:”

BECAUSE the boy was told he couldn’t have any more cookies, he immediately began to pout.

You can lop off that entire dependent clause, “Because the boy was told he couldn’t have any more cookies,” and still have a perfectly good sentence: but that clause adds meaning to the sentence by explaining why he was pouting.

So back to my earlier example of an incorrect use of “due to:”

DUE TO illness, he is not in the office today.

It SHOULD be:

BECAUSE OF illness, he is not in the office today.

If you still can’t bring yourself to start a sentence with “because,” do it this way:

He is not in the office today BECAUSE OF illness.

Just never, never say:

He is not in the office today DUE TO illness.

For my next grammar number, I’ll do a rant on the word “myself.” I’m almost willing to bet you money that the last three times you’ve used that word, it’s been wrong!

(And to think that there were a few of you out there who actually missed me while I was gone!!)

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 27 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.