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.]