The Negative Canon: ‘Due To’

This post is one in a series about The Negative Canon.


Harry Blamires is dead against the non-adjectival use of due to. In his sternest tones he tells us in ‘The Penguin Guide to Plain English’ that:

[Due to] is one of the most ill-used constructions in general use today. Due to is not interchangeable with because of. We may write Because of the weather, the match was cancelled, but it would be incorrect to write Due to the weather the match was cancelled. The reason is that due is an adjective and, as such, has to agree with a noun. One can say The cancellation was due to the bad weather because there due to hinges on the word cancellation.

R L Trask in ‘Mind The Gaffe’ takes a more pragmatic approach:

In all likelihood, the reservations about due to will disappear in another generation or so, and all usage handbooks will allow it to be used as freely as owing to. But this has not happened yet, and the free use of due to will still annoy a number of your readers. It seems best to play safe: use due to only in adjectival position, or, if you’re not sure what counts as adjectival position, avoid the expression altogether.

The tone in ‘Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage’ is far more measured. It traces the history, and concludes:

In our judgment, due to is as impeccable grammatically as owing to, which is frequently recommended as a substitute for it. There never has been a grammatical ground for objection . . . There is no solid reason to avoid using due to.

‘The Cambridge Guide to English Usage’ gives Fowler’s view an airing, but comes down on the side of acceptance:

Due to has been under a cloud for three centuries, though the basis of objections to it has shifted. Fowler (1926) found the problem in the need to make due an adjective or participle properly attached to a relevant noun, not to a notion extracted from a whole clause/sentence. The first sentence below was therefore unacceptable, and should be rewritten as the second or third:

Due to unforeseen circumstances the dinner was postponed.

The postponement of the dinner was due to unforeseen circumstances.

Owing to unforeseen circumstances, the dinner was postponed.

Fowler himself noted that this prepositional use of due to was ‘as common as can be’ . . . There is clearly no reason to perpetuate the shibboleth against due to, when the grammatical grounds for objecting to it are so dubious.

In general this is no longer something which bothers most native speakers, if it ever did. In particular, it doesn’t seem to bother those who shudder when they hear between you and I, or whose eyes hurt when they read of five items or less. If that is the case, it would seem to place non-adjectival due to in the Negative Pool rather than in the Negative Canon.


Filed under The Negative Canon

2 responses to “The Negative Canon: ‘Due To’

  1. dw

    I plead guilty to having internalized this peeve.

    The peeve is irrational (why should “due to” be forbidden, but “owing to” be OK?). However, it does serve a useful purpose, because I often find that completely rewriting sentences containing “due to” (or, for that matter, “owing to”) makes them clearer.


  2. I, too, find it an unsatisfactory line of reasoning. Still, anything that causes us to edit our writing can only be a good thing.


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