The Language Perfectionist: What’s Due and Proper

I found the following sentences online. Can you spot what’s wrong with them?

  • “NYC’s ‘Sidewalk Santas’ sidelined due to economy.”
  • “When is school closed due to weather?”
    • “[Basketball’s Utah] Jazz star Deron Williams had to leave his team on a road trip to return to Salt Lake City due to a family illness.”

Properly, the phrase due to should be used only in the sense of “attributable to” or “caused by.” For example, this sentence is correct: “Low crop yields in Africa are not due to climate change but rather farmers failing to exploit opportunities in wetter years….”

But in the three bulleted examples above, the meaning is owing to or because of. In such cases, one of these phrases should be used instead of due to.

Confused? It all has to do with parts of speech, and the explanation can be complicated. But if you’re ever in doubt, here’s a simple test: Substitute the word attributable for due. Is the sentence still grammatical? If so, due is okay. If not, use owing to or, less formally, because of.

Some language gurus contend that due to is awkward and clumsy, even when it’s used correctly. They recommend avoiding the phrase entirely. I’ll give them their due!

[Ed Note: For more than three decades, Don Hauptman was an award-winning independent direct-response copywriter and creative consultant. He is author of The Versatile Freelancer, an e-book that shows writers and other creative professionals how to diversify their careers into speaking, consulting, training, and critiquing.]

Don Hauptman was an award-winning independent direct-response copywriter and creative consultant for more than 30 years. He may be best known for his headline “Speak Spanish [French, German, etc.] Like a Diplomat!” This familiar series of ads sold spectacular numbers of recorded foreign language lessons for Audio-Forum, generating revenues that total in the tens of millions of dollars. In the process, the ad achieved the status of an industry classic. Don’s work is mentioned in three major college advertising textbooks, and examples of his promotions are cited in the books Million Dollar Mailings (1992) and World's Greatest Direct Mail Sales Letters (1996). In a column in Advertising Age, his name was included in a short list of direct-marketing “superstars.” He has a parallel career as a writer on language and wordplay. His celebration of spoonerisms, Cruel and Unusual Puns (Dell, 1991), received rave reviews and quickly went into a second printing. His second book was Acronymania (Dell, 1993). Recently, Don retired from full-time copywriting in order to focus on other interests, including his passion for “recreational linguistics.” He is at work on a new book in that genre. He is a regular contributor to the magazine Word Ways and writes “The Language Perfectionist,” a weekly column on grammar and usage, for Early to Rise. Don is author of The Versatile Freelancer,an e-book from American Writers and Artists, Inc. (AWAI) that shows copywriters – and almost anyone – how to diversify their careers into consulting, training, critiquing, and speaking.