Due to - owing to

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The two phrases due to and owing to seem to be used interchangeably in everyday English, but there is a pedantic dislike of using due to in the same way as owing to among some academics. Like many pedantic dislikes, this one flourishes in academic circles - and appears to have little real reason behind it. The first edition of Fowler (1926) regarded due to in this usage as "used by the illiterate". However, by 1996 Burchfield's Fowler was saying that "Hostility to the construction is an entirely [20th century] phenomenon" - and there seems to AWE no good reason why it should be extended into the 21st century. Nevertheless, good writers consider the tastes and prejudices of their readers - and if you know that your reader dislikes due to in some contexts, it is better to use owing to or because of, "which are always safe" (Longman's Guide). The rule is perhaps most simply explained in Candlin, 1952:

"The most convenient way of avoiding mistakes here is to remember that

a noun is "due to"
a verb is "owing to".
Thus "His accident (noun) was due to carelessness"; but "He fell (verb) downstairs owing to his own carelessness".

Fowler (1926)'s objection is that due is an "ordinary participle or adjective", and should not be used as a compound preposition. This seems strange, as owing is equally an "ordinary participle or adjective", and yet Fowler regards owing to as entirely acceptable as a compound preposition. Truly, prejudices about usage in language can be hard to understand. The two words due and owing originally mean exactly the same (and to is identical in the two phrases). Due is a Romance word derived from Latin (and defined in OED as "that is owing or payable"). Owing is the Germanic equivalent. A further explanation has been offered by a teacher of classics: "owing to is always right since it = 'because of'. Due to is almost invariably used wrongly since it = 'caused by'. Thus, "The 8:20 train is late due to leaves" is wrong; but "The lateness of the train, due to leaves" is correct. AWE believes on the whole that the fine-ness of the distinction between 'because of' and 'caused by', though real and aptly illustrated by the sentences quoted, is so small as not to matter greatly

It is worth noting that in certain uses, the two words due and to may sit next to each other in a sentence for other reasons than being a compound preposition. Some of these are:

  • In an invoice or bill, the heading Due to means 'You should pay this sum to the person named'.
  • In a station or airport, you may hear "The service due to arrive at ... [a time]". Here, the to belongs to the verb 'arrive', not the adjective due (~ 'expected' or 'planned').
  • Where due is an adjective used after the verb 'to be' and means 'owing to': "Respect is due to the General for the victory",and "His success is due to his education". Here the to is a preposition linking the noun which it follows to the name of the person to whom it is owed. Not even Fowler appears to object to this.

Finally, Swan (1995) says "Some people believe that it is incorrect to use due to at the beginning of a clause ... but the structure is common in educated usage". If you are going to use it like this, it may be worth considering whether what you want is actually the compound preposition due to the fact that .... This is a way to link a finite verb to another clause; but because of the fact that... may be better (because simpler).