Tuesday, June 16, 2015

because of vs. due to

The "because of versus due to" issue comes up as an actual grammar point on the American college-entrance exam, the SAT (there's now a new version of the test, which has been significantly redesigned, so I'm now out of date). It's an interesting issue, and to be honest, it's one I wasn't aware of until I started teaching at YB [not its real name], the tutoring/test-prep center where I faced off against squirmy young people from grade school to high school, from early 2011 to mid-2013.

Most people—me included—tend to think that because of and due to are more or less interchangeable:

The outdoor orgy was canceled due to rain.
The outdoor orgy was canceled because of rain.

Most of us probably have an intuition that due to is used when we're formally stating the reason for something. Because of, meanwhile, looks and feels less formal. As it turns out, however, the distinction between these two locutions doesn't exactly follow our intuition.

Here's the rule of thumb that I learned: use the phrase due to only if you can replace it with the phrase attributable to without committing a grammatical faux pas.


The outdoor orgy was canceled due to rain.
The outdoor orgy was canceled attributable to rain.

Putting attributable to into the sentence makes it obvious that it's ungrammatical. Nix the due to and use because of:

The outdoor orgy was canceled because of rain.

Let's try another set. Which is correct?

a. His hand strength was largely due to his constant, furious masturbation.
b. His hand strength was largely because of his constant, furious masturbation.

In this case, (a) is correct: leave the due to in. The phrase "was largely attributable to" makes grammatical sense, and as you now see, the reason we use due to in this case is that there's a verb, "was," almost directly in front of the locution. (The verb would be directly in front were there no intervening adverb.) Due to is functioning suspiciously like a predicate adjective.

So now you know the due to/because of rule of thumb. May all your future linguistic success be due to your constant, furious masturbation.

ADDENDUM: the wise and powerful Mignon* Fogarty, a.k.a. Grammar Girl, notes the "attributable to" rule of thumb as well. She associates the rule with Strunk and White.

*As with the "Imperator/Imperatrix" problem I noted in my review of "Mad Max: Fury Road," the name "Mignon" is based on the masculine form of the French adjective meaning "cute." The feminine form of mignon is mignonne. Kind of ironic that a woman who has devoted her life to correct grammar should be cursed with a grammatically incorrect first name. (Or has she been compensating all this time?) Another woman cursed with a grammatically masculine name: Cher. Ideally, it should have been Chère. If we could turn back time, if we could find a way, we might be able to rewrite history and name the woman properly.



Charles said...

I seem to remember you having done a post on due to/because of previously. Or is that just the peyote talking?

John (I'm not a robot) said...

That actually makes sense because of your outstanding explanation. Which I'm sure is due to your mastery of the English language.

Kevin Kim said...


I think the peyote has given you great insight. I, too, was pretty sure I had done such a post before, but a quick search of my blog's archives didn't bring up any results. I may need to go back and search again, using different search strings, because I do think this is ground I've covered before.