“Owing to” vs “Due to”

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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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23 thoughts on ““Owing to” vs “Due to””

  1. That last example seems trite, and an incompetent argument.
    “His accident occurred owing to the fact that he was talking on his cell phone.”

    Yes, his use of the cell phone might be a fact, but there is a vast assumption about how that contributed to the accident. There is an assumed connection, one that is implied but not established.

    Too many people are familiar with taking or making a cell phone call while walking, dining, driving a vehicle, or even during a conversation with other people. Unless each and every cell phone use causes an accident, then the the base statement that a cell phone was in use might be true, yet have nothing to do with the cause of the accident. What isn’t established is why an accident was related to the use of a cell phone this time, and not the millions of times that accidents don’t occur when cell phone is used.

    I propose, “His accident occurred because he was distracted. He chose to engage in conversation rather than safely operate his vehicle. Because he conversed via cell phone, his conversation partner wasn’t immediately visible; thus his mind concentrated on aural cues rather than diligently incorporating visual information. His mind disengaged his sight during his conversation.”

    I realize that the example is an illustration of “owing to”, and not an actual portion of persuasive writing. But the clumsy argument still caught my attention.

  2. Brad K., what is incompetent is your point.

    In the land of stories and fabricated examples, the writer can do whatever they please. Who’s to say Maeve’s example isn’t a truncated telling of a story involving an accident and a resulting in-depth investigation?

  3. OK…the more I read DWT’s (and I have been reading each and every one not unlike a grammar junkie needing the fix.) the more I seem to doubt my own writing abilities, and worse, my skills as a teacher of English for over 27 years. The latest heartburn was the response to Steven Campbell’s angst over “due to” and “owing to” in which the response bogged me down, making me scream in my head that both expressions are colloquialisms and aren’t worth the ink DUE TO the fact that DUE TO simpley means because and is adverbial. The concluding examples are exemplars to my point:

    His accident was due to excessive alcohol consumption.
    His accident occurred owing to the fact that he was talking on his cell phone.

    Accident is the Subject followed by a linking verb and ostensibly the cobbled prepositional phrase “due to…consumption.” Now, when I read this, I don’t see due to as adjectival as asserted in the response; rather, I see a simple adverbial prepostional phrase emanating from lazy colloquial writing. I would have marked the student paper with “‘Colloq.’ consider using a sub. conj. and recast with action verb/adverb clause” or something. The result would be a better sentence, a much better objective than quibbling the colloquialism:

    The accident was caused by excessive alcohol consumption.

    Seems to me that “owing to” screams for “because of”; hence, the following also pared down from the wordiness of the original:

    His accident occurred [because of] his use of a cell phone.

    Both are adverbial, and the split hairs of “due to” and “owing to” can be thrown out as irrelevant unless one is a language historian attempting to clarify their original uses and the devolution into common speech.

    My goodness…my head hurts due to all of this.

  4. @ Eric T. MacKnight,

    I didn’t recommend avoiding or omitting these phrases. I merely objected to the single example when I read it as a statement or politically sensitive message.

    “It should rain tonight, due to an approaching cold front,” is common and easily understood. But now I am conflicted about whether it is correct usage. . .

    And I confess, I am more familiar with Owings Mills, MD, home of the late Louis Rukeyser broadcasts, than using “owing to” correctly or otherwise.

  5. As far as I can tell, Brad’s comment has nothing to do with the post topic. He’s not arguing against the use of either “owing to” or “due to.” He’s ranting about blaming accidents on cell phone use.

  6. Personally, given that I did not witness the accident in question, I am happy to accept Maeve’s initial assessment that the cellphone was the significant contributing factor.

    From the information given it is conceivable that the ‘accident’ was that he poked himself in the eye with his phone antenna.

    I think the original post does illustrate – as a side-effect – that all language carries sub-texts, and that no matter how carefully you say something, you cannot control how other people hear it.

  7. i was realy in huge confusion but after these sensible examples i became aware the difference between owing to and due to.

  8. I came her looking for guidance, but didn’t find it. Instead I realised that – literally – ‘owing to’ and ‘due to’ mean the same thing, but that isn’t ‘because’. A sum of money is ‘due’, or may be ‘owing’, to the Tax Office. The Tax Office may set the tax rate, but it doesn’t cause the sum of money to exist. So how can flooding be due to heavy rain, or owing to anything?

  9. I think this difference can be distinguished easily. because I learned english subsequently, maybe I can see that difference from a different,clear perspective. as far as I learned, owing to can be used in many cases in place of due to but owing to refers to only one reason of the happening.there can be other reasons. but when you use due to, it is comletely attributed to reason that you use after it.

  10. When I took my only formal qualification in English language in 1966, that is O level, we were expected to know that ‘due to’ should be used adjectively, to mean roughly the same as ’caused by, brought into existence by’. So it still amuses me to hear the station announcement ‘Due to driver illness, the 4.55 to Sittingbourne has been cancelled’ since a driver’s health problems can’t magic a loco and coaches into being. Similarly, ‘Due to an accident the Headmaster will not be able to take Monday’s assembly’ rather deliciously casts an accidental slur on the good gentleman’s parents’ birth control methods. No-one seemed aware of the adjectival/adverbial distinction between due to and owing in my three years reading English at Cambridge. Since it seems to me that ‘due to derives from a past participle and ‘owing to’ from a present participle, it still feels to me wrong and ignorant when ‘due to’ is used adverbially. ‘Due to incessant rains the floods devastated the county’ is sensible, whereas ‘Due to lack of concentration the driver overshot the traffic lights’ provokes a smile or frown. Whenever was a human being generated by a failure to pay attention. Those (the very considerable majority, I know) who do not feel the distinction between ‘due to’ and ‘owing to’ consider it to be a lost cause or dead horse point of pedantry. It will remain for me an enjoyable and elegant point of clarity. Does anyone concur?

  11. I fully concur with the views of Martin Hearne above. It appears, however, that the words “due to” have, de facto, evolved to be an adverbial expression in addition, of course, to retaining their use as an adjectival one. A matter, perhaps, of the natural evolution inherent in all living languages. It’s entirely necessary, however, that the traditional usage of words be defended otherwise the English language could end up as meaningless garbage all too quickly.

  12. “Due to” cannot be replaced by “because of”:

    A payment of $5 is due to Mr Higginbotham for services rendered.

    Never mind “adverbial expression of addition”, how about the actual MEANING of the word “due”, in the same sense as “paying your dues”, “due date”, “due process” etc?

    I don’t know, but I imagine there could be some connection between the “incorrect” use of “due to” and this (presumably) correct use. I can imagine the evolution from expressions like:

    Credit is due to John for building the road.


    The road is due to John’s fine efforts.


    The road is closed due to flooding.

  13. I was taught that “only babies and reports are due”. Everything else is “owing” . I find it very difficult (not hard!) to hear the misuse of these words!!

  14. I can hear ‘due to’ being used frequently, and used wrong in most cases. However, like you pointed out, many people don’t know the difference.
    I felt I should know the difference, so that I can show people the error of their ways, but I needed some examples.
    While I am here, could I point out that your example for ‘owing to’ is missing the word ‘closed’: “The road was CLOSED due to the efforts of local citizens who voted to raise taxes for its construction.”

  15. What I remember of the Due to / Owing to argument is when I wrote my GCE English paper 52 years ago was :
    One cannot start a sentence with “Due to”
    Due to = caused by
    Owing to = because of .
    If you apply these simple rules the correct grammar should be simple to attain.

  16. Sentence extracted from a scientific journal, where ‘owing to’ and ‘due to’ are being used in the same sentence:
    “There was considerable attrition owing to musculoskeletal toxicities (12%), although these were predominantly due to research focused on matrix metalloproteinase inhibitors; this research has been subsequently discontinued.”
    How those definitions and rules can be applied in this sentence?

  17. The use of due to and owing to is one that is relative new to me. As you so accurately point out, in the minds of English speakers, their use is interchangeable. However, I have just began a career as a medical editor and was taught this important difference: use ‘due to’ when you can interchange it with ’caused by’ and owing to when you can interchange it with ‘because of’

  18. As far as the meaning is concerned there is no difference. Both “due to” and “owing to” can be used to mean “because of”. Many people use the two words interchangeably. Here are a few examples.

    *Owing to/Due to bad weather, all flights were cancelled.

    *Ramesh was late, owing to/due to the heavy traffic.

    *Owing to/Due to the groom’s illness, the wedding was postponed.

    *The wedding was postponed due to/owing to the groom’s illness.

    Careful users of the language argue that “due to” should not be used at the beginning of a clause. But even educated native speakers of English begin clauses with “due to”. One difference between “due to” and “owing to” is that “due to” can be used after the verb “to be”; “owing to”, on the other hand, cannot. For example, it is OK to say, “Their success was due to hard work and brilliant planning.” You cannot say, “Their success was owing to hard work.” Similarly it is OK to say, “The actor’s success was due to his wife”, but you cannot say, “The actor’s success was owing to his wife.”

  19. I agree with Ms Maddox that there was once a distinction, and that it is today so seldom observed that it’s effectively defunct and certainly not worth teaching – rather like the old distinction between “less” and “fewer” (observation convinces me the latter word is already well on its way to becoming obsolete). Back in the seventies I had to endure a whole class for ‘O’ level English on the due to/owing to distinction, which I remember now as a prime example of how English teachers tend to seize on some obscure point of grammar and spend an inordinate time on it, just to give themselves the satisfaction of having taught something that none of their students probably knew. (Meanwhile, students are still perpetrating run-ons galore.) The fact that such teacherly habits die hard was brought home to me by a couple of recent messages in the Guardian, in which parents railed about their barely literate kids coming home exhausted after a hard day’s negative adverbial fronting. Plus ca change…

  20. I don’t recall this every coming up in an English lesson, but it did come up in an ‘A’ level German class (circa 1979), in which I was called out for misusing “due to” in an English translation. Fowler’s (the 1965 second edition, so likely also the 1926 first edition; but not the “Modern” 1996 third edition) refers to “the illiterate [, which] term is here to be taken as including all who are unfamiliar with good writers, and are consequently unaware of any idiomatic difference between ‘Owing to his age he was unable to compete’ and ‘Due to his age he was unable to complete’.” In my illiteracy, I’m struggling to identify the idiomatic difference. Can anyone enlighten me?

  21. Not wanting to muddy the waters (OK, yes I do) but I was taught at school that you can have e.g. money “that is due to you” or “money owing to you”, i.e. “due to” is preceded by some form of “to be”. However, neither “due to” nor “owing to” can be used instead of “because of”. So, strictly speaking, trains are delayed “because of” leaves, wrong sort of snow etc.

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