Q: Here’s a pet peeve. My eighth-grade English teacher taught me that “due to” should be used as an adjective and “because of” as an adverb. However, I see “due to” used instead of “because of” all the time, even in reputable literary and news sources.
A: This is a peeve that you share with the New York Times. When we were editors there, we were expected to take a close look at every “due to” that came our way.
The Times’s policy was to allow “due to” as an adjectival usage modifying a specific noun (as in, “his bankruptcy was due to a market fluctuation”).
But “due to” wasn’t allowed when modifying a verb and meaning “because of” (as in, “he went bankrupt due to the stock-market collapse”).
This was the position of most usage authorities for quite a while, but the ground is shifting.
(Keep in mind that here we’re talking about “due to” as a modifying phrase, and not about the use of “due” plus an infinitive, as in “The train is due to leave at 4:10.”)
Here’s how Pat wrote about “due to” in the latest (third) edition of her grammar and usage book Woe Is I:
“When you want to be on your very best grammatical behavior, use due to only if you mean ‘caused by’ or ‘resulting from’: The damage was due to moths. In recent years, dictionaries have come to accept a looser usage, meaning ‘because of’ or ‘on account of’: Richie threw the suit away due to the hole. But be warned that some find this grating, especially at the front of a sentence: Due to the hole, Richie threw the suit away.”
In other words, you can defend the use of “due to” in the sense of “because of,” but the usage will raise a few eyebrows.
The advice given in The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (5th ed.) ends with a somewhat less than enthusiastic acceptance of the looser usage of “due to.” Here’s the dictionary’s usage note (we’ll add paragraph breaks):
“Due to has been widely used for many years as a compound preposition like owing to, but some critics have insisted that due should be used only as an adjective. According to this view, it is incorrect to say The concert was canceled due to the rain, but acceptable to say The cancellation of the concert was due to the rain, where due continues to function as an adjective modifying cancellation.
“Although there is still some support for this notion among members of the Usage Panel, the tide has turned toward accepting due to as a full-fledged preposition. Back in 1966, the ‘adverbial’ use of due to (as in was canceled due to the rain) was rejected by 84 percent of the Panel. In our 2001 survey, however, 60 percent accepted this construction.”
The conclusion: “There is no linguistic reason to avoid using due to as a preposition, but English has a variety of ready substitutes, including because of, on account of, and owing to.”
Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.) also notes the objections of critics, but it endorses the usage without reservations.
Although American Heritage, Merriam-Webster’s, and other dictionaries can be cited in defense of the usage, we think “due to” is awkward and ungainly in any case. Since there are more felicitous alternatives, it’s easy enough to avoid.
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