“Due to” does not mean “because of” — or does it?

So, I ran into this particular detail of grammar because I said to a student, “Due to basically means the same thing as “because of –” and then paused, feeling that perhaps this was not the case, but not sure.

So, given this sudden uncertainty, I poked around and found this article:

“Because Of” and “Due To”

Many are of the opinion that both of the pairs refer to the same thing, and that they can be used as synonyms. This is an absolute misconception. They cannot be used interchangeably because they do not belong to the same classification. When the classification is not the same, how can the usage be?

By “classification,” they mean that “due to” acts as an adjective, while “because of” acts as an adverb.

Interesting! And possibly why I suddenly paused, but I’m not sure. Let me try this out:

“Due to that dragon, we find sheep difficult to raise here.” Okay, is “due to” an adjective? I would not say it is modifying the noun, but it certainly applies to the noun.

“Because of that dragon …” looks exactly the same to me. But perhaps that is actually not technically correct? The linked post would say, I think, that this sentence should be re-written more like this, “We find sheep difficult to raise here because of that dragon.” The idea is that “because” applies to finding the sheep difficult to raise, not to the dragon. Hmm. I’m finding this distinction a little difficult to grasp.

The post suggests this:

One trick you can use is to substitute “due to” with “caused by.” If the substitution does not work, then you probably shouldn’t use “due to” there.

I’m happy to find a nice little trick when a rule does not really work for me. I’m also perfectly okay with suggesting to students that they use “caused by” instead of “due to,” for a different reason: many English instructors illustrate the concept of “too wordy” with the phrase “due to the fact that.” Since this tends to mean that instructors dislike any phrase containing “due to,” it’s probably tactically wise to avoid the latter phrase.

However, I will just note that every single English book that says “due to the fact that” is too wordy suggests replacing that phrase with because.

If any of you would like to dust off your grammarian hat and clarify all this, be my guest.

One little trick that DOES work for me is:

That does not have a comma in front. If you want to put a comma there, use which.

Of course, using this particular rule means you’d better have a general feel for where commas go. But that’s how I do that one. I never think about restrictive and nonrestrictive clauses. That’s too hard to remember. Comma = which, and there you go.

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6 thoughts on ““Due to” does not mean “because of” — or does it?”

  1. Well this raised my inner grammarian’s eyebrows. I’d never thought about the difference between the phrases, though I think I probably use them differently without knowing why. From The Copyeditor’s Handbook:

    “Some traditionalists still parse ‘due to’ as the adjective ‘due’ followed by the preposition ‘to,’ rather than treating ‘due to’ as a compound preposition like ‘because of’ or ‘owing to.’ In the traditionalists’ view, the adjective ‘due’ must have a noun to modify, and thus ‘due to’ is correct only as a substitute for ‘attributable to’:
    The delays at the airport were due to bad weather in Chicago.
    But this preference is largely ignored, and all but the most fastidious purists allow ‘due to’ as a substitute for ‘because of’ or ‘owing to’:
    Planes were delayed at the airport due to bad weather in Chicago.”

    And now I’m trying to wrap my head around how the meaning of the adjective ‘due,’ as in, “when is he due?” relates to the meaning of ‘attributable,’ but I don’t think it does.

    I’m just going to go with not being a fastidious purist on this one!

  2. This doesnt feel right. “Because of”takes a noun (or noun phrase) argument, just as “due to”. In both cases, the phrase is modifying an action: something occurred or did not occur for a particular reason. So it seems that both cases must be adverbial phrases.

    Now “$20 is due to Jack for reimbursement” really uses “due to” as an adjectival phrase. But that is not the common case.

  3. A further thought: I am reminded of the rule about splitting infinitives, which was arbitrarily introduced in 1803 by a grammar Nazi. (Wikipedia calls him a “linguistic prescriptive”; the whole article on the topic is unusually entertaining.)

  4. One of the commenters on the original post wrote this:

    “Because:” the thing that has been caused.
    “Due:” a characteristic inherent in a thing.

    Which makes more sense to me then the OP’s suggested substitution.

  5. Thank you for looking that up, Kim! I think I will join everyone else in letting this possible distinction fade into obscurity.

    I know, Pete. I basically split or don’t split infinitives depending on which way it sounds better, which I suppose is how most of us do it these days.

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