Writing for Business

Jan 10 2013   8:56PM GMT

Should you find an alternative to “due to”?

Ivy Wigmore Ivy Wigmore Profile: Ivy Wigmore


Which is correct?
Most major security breaches ____________ human error.
a. can be attributed to
b. are due to

Answer: b.

As a rule, it’s better to go with the less wordy option when phrases mean the same thing. There are those that claim “due to” is ungrammatical, but they are incorrect. Read on:

John McIntyre explains the likely source of the quarrel against “due to” — what he calls a sham rule and/or a crochet — in his Baltimore Sun article, The foggy, foggy “due”:

A reader who saw yesterday’s post on compared to/compared with writes to ask about due to/because of, on which a colleague is dogmatic.

I would hazard a guess that the Dogmatic Colleague is a fan of the late John Bremner’s Words on Words and its bracing certainties about language. Professor Bremner laid down the law on due to/because of: Due is an adjective, so the adjectival prepositional phrase due to must follow a form of to be so that due can refer back to a noun or pronoun. His defeat was due to carelessness is the Bremner example, with due referring back to defeatBecause of is an adverbial prepositional phrase, referring back not to a noun or pronoun but to a verb. He was defeated because of carelessness is the Bremner example of proper usage, because of referring back to defeated.”

McIntyre goes on to discredit the argument, quoting the Merriam-Webster Dictionary of English Usage:

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 the objection, although the objection formulated in the early part of this [twentieth] century persists in the minds of some usage commentators.”

So there you have it. If you’ve got any dogmatic colleagues who insist that “due to” is unacceptable, you know where to send them — straight to John McIntyre, in whose honor I’m adding a new tag today: sham rules and crochets.

Follow me on Twitter @tao_of_grammar

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