“Owing to” vs “Due to”
Steve Campbell asks for a post on “the choice between due to and owing to.
There was a time that I felt very strongly about the difference between due to and owing to, zealously correcting misuse in student papers.
After all, one of my most esteemed authorities, H.W. Fowler, has this to say in Modern English Usage:
Under the influence of ANALOGY, due to is often used by the illiterate as though it had passed, like owing to, into a mere compound preposition.
He gives such examples as these of due to being used incorrectly:
The old trade union movement is a dead horse, largely due to the incompetency of the leaders.
Rooks, probably due to the fact that they are so often shot at, have a profound distrust of man.
The perceived error is that due to must be attached to a noun and not, says Fowler,
to a notion extracted from a sentence . . . it is not the horse, [or] the distrust of the rooks…that are due, but the failure of the movement, the distrust of the rooks . . .
Even now, I reach for an index card when I hear the local weatherman say, “The road is closed due to flooding.” Then I remind myself that the difference between due to and owing to is as much a dead horse as the “old trade union movement” in Fowler’s example.
For those who wish to go on beating the horse, due to is adjectival and owing to is adverbial. The road was closed owing to flooding. For the road to be “due to” anything, it would have to be something that influenced the existence of the road: The road was due to the efforts of local citizens who voted to raise taxes for its construction.
Here are two more examples for the sake of comparison:
His accident was due to excessive alcohol consumption.
His accident occurred owing to the fact that he was talking on his cell phone.
For most English speakers due to and owing to have become interchangeable. Trying to preserve a distinction between them is pointless. I’d rather direct my energy to the defense of “I” as a subject pronoun.
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