March 20, 2008

Weekly Language Usage Tips (March 20, 2008) due to, different from/than

Posted in different from/than, due to at 7:19 pm by dlseltzer

Tip 1: Due to

“Due to” is a troublesome phrase. I was asked to comment “on the propriety of using ‘due to’ as a synonym for ‘because of.'” (Remind me to write about the passive voice.) For this one, I had to enlist all of my writing and stylebook resources (which I will share with you in an upcoming newsletter). While it is often used as a synonym, it isn’t exactly one. “Due to” really means “caused by” or “resulting from.” “Due to” implies a causal relationship or attribution, while “because of ” means “the reason for” but not necessarily the “cause of.” There are lots of rules and debates about whether it is an adjective and can only modify nouns or whether it can be considered a preposition and used as an adverb. I’m not going to get into that because we care about effective writing, and we’re not going to learn the parts of speech from this newsletter. Just remember this: “Due to” is used when you can replace the phrase by “caused by.” I think some examples would help clarify this.

EXAMPLE 1:

The proposal was not submitted due to a last minute reviewer who said that it was not ready for prime time. This is incorrect.

The proposal was not submitted because of a last minute reviewer who said that it was not ready for prime time. This is correct.

The lack of submission was due to a last minute reviewer who said that the proposal was not ready for prime time. This is correct.

EXAMPLE 2:

From a Press Release from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) (The first line is from the press release.)JCPenney Recalls Cooks’ Deep Fryers Due to Fire and Burn Hazards. This is incorrect.

JCPenney Recalls Cooks’ Deep Fryers because of Fire and Burn Hazards. This is correct.

JCPenney’s recall of Cook’s Deep Fryers was due to Fire and Burn Hazards. This is correct.

EXAMPLE 3:

The class was cancelled due to rain. This is incorrect.

The class was cancelled because of rain. This is correct.

The class cancellation was due to rain. This is correct.

If all of this makes you want to run screaming and pulling your hair, I’m with you. “Due to” is very troublesome. I’m going to leave this tip with a comment from Bill Bryson, the author of a fabulous book called, “Troublesome Words: A Writer’s Guide to Getting it Right.”

“The rule is mystifyingly inconsistent–no-one has really ever explained why “owing to” used prepositionally is acceptable while “due to” used prepositionally is not–but it should perhaps still be observed, at least in formal writing, if only to avoid a charge of ignorance.”
Bryson, B. “Troublesome Words: A Writer’s Guide to getting it Right.” Broadway Books, New York, New York. 2002

Tip 2: Different from/than

“Different from” is standard English; “different than” is not. That’s the easy part, but we know grammar is never easy. “Different than” is non-standard English but is used frequently (and is viewed as acceptable) in conversation. It is also acceptable in formal writing when followed by a clause (e.g., This survey is different than the one I filled out yesterday; he’s different than I expected).

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