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.”)
The usage showed up in the 17th century as an adjectival phrase meaning “caused by” or “resulting from.” But over the last century and a half, it has also been used adverbially as a compound preposition meaning “because of” or “on account of.”
The newer usage is now accepted by all 10 online standard dictionaries that we regularly consult. Lexico, the former Oxford Dictionaries Online, cites this example of “due to” used to modify a verb: “he had to withdraw due to a knee injury.”
Some traditionalists still object to the usage, but the Oxford English Dictionary says it “became well established during the 19th century, and is now usually regarded as acceptable standard English.”
The dictionary notes that the use of “due to” to mean “because of” was first “criticized in usage guides in the early 20th century, apparently beginning with H. W. Fowler.”
In the 1926 first edition of his Dictionary of Modern English Usage, Fowler describes it as “often used by the illiterate.” But in the 2015 fourth edition, Jeremy Butterfield says “it looks as if this use of due to is now part of the natural language of the 21c.”
[Note: This post was updated on Nov. 2, 2019.]
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