Episode 198: November 27, 2009
by Bonnie Trenga
Today we’re looking at various ways to say “because,” including “due to,”“since,” and “as.”
Wordy Ways to Say “Because”
First, let’s disparage all the wordy ways to express the meaning “because.” There are quite a few: “due to the fact that,” “owing to the fact that,” “on account of,” and “on the grounds that,” for example. If you use “because” instead of those beasts, you can save up to four words.
You should also avoid “the reason is because.” For example, a redundant but romantic windbag might say, “The reason I love you is because of your kindness.” Why not be concise and romantic instead? Just say, “I love you because you’re kind.” Some might prefer “the reason is that,” but that is also wordy.
“Due to” or “Because”?
Now let’s discuss “due to” and “because.” As happens so often these days, there’s a traditional way and a rebel way. The traditional view is that you should use “due to” only as an adjective, usually following the verb “to be” (1). For example, if you say, “The cancellation was due to rain,” the words “due to” modify “cancellation.” That sentence is a bit formal, but it fits the traditionalist rule.
If you want to be more casual, you’ll say, “It was cancelled because of rain.” According to purists, you’re not allowed to say, “It was cancelled due to rain” because “due to” doesn’t have anything to modify. Purists argue that “due to” is an adjective; it shouldn’t be a compound preposition.
Very few of us are thinking about adjectives and compound prepositions when we speak, so it may be difficult to know when you’re using “due to” as an adjective. Strunk & White (2) suggest using “due to” when you can replace it with “attributable to,” whereas in her book Woe is I Patricia O'Connor (3) proposes substituting “caused by” or “resulting from.” She explains that if a sentence begins with “due to,” as in “Due to inclement weather, school was canceled,” the sentence is “probably wrong.”
So if you find yourself agreeing with traditionalists—or if your writing will be judged by one—use “due to” if you can substitute “attributable to,” “caused by,” or “resulting from.” And don’t use it at the beginning of a sentence.
Now let’s be rebellious. Fowler's Modern English Usage points out that the objection to “due to” as a compound preposition is “an entirely 20c phenomenon, but it begins to look as if this use of ‘due to’ will form part of the natural language of the 21c” (4). The American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style (5) agrees, stating that “The tide has turned toward accepting ‘due to’ as a full-fledged preposition.”
If you’re a purist, go ahead and avoid “due to” as a compound preposition, but understand that the majority may soon be against you.
After reviewing the evidence, we say if you’re a purist, go ahead and avoid “due to” as a compound preposition, but understand that the majority may soon be against you. Whichever way you feel about “due to,” remember that our easy-to-use friend “because” is often standing at attention thinking, "You could use me. Pick me!"
Other Times to Use “Due to”
You don’t have to ban “due to” completely. This phrase can mean “payable to” or “supposed to” (6). For example, you could say, “I ask that you pay what is due to me.” Here, you are asking for money that someone owes you. You could also say, “The plane is due to arrive at noon,” meaning the plane should arrive at 12.
“Since” or “Because”?
Strict grammarians may not like it (7), but “since” and “because” can be synonyms. My dictionary confirms it (8). “Since I love you, let’s get married” means the same thing as “Because I love you, let’s get married.” (Yes, you can use “because” at the beginning of a sentence.)
Fussy grammarians might be a teensy bit right in some cases, though. The word “since” often refers to how much time has passed, as in “Since yesterday, all I’ve thought about is you.” Sometimes, a sentence with “since” can be interpreted in two ways, and that is when you should avoid using “since” to mean “because.” Take this ambiguous sentence:
“Since they spoke, she’s had second thoughts.” (“Since” could mean “from the time that” or “because.”)
A similar problem arises with the word “as,” which can also mean “because,” so keep those little grammarians perched on your shoulder to make sure you don’t write an ambiguous sentence. Granted, it is hard to know when you’re being unintentionally ambiguous. Spend some time away from your writing and then look at it again with fresh eyes, or you could always rope in a friend.
To sum up, English offers many ways to express “because.” Some are wordy and should be avoided due to the fact that they are wordy. (Did you get that? We just made a joke!) Others, like “since” and “as,” need to be used carefully, since you never know if you’ll confuse your readers.
The Curious Case of the Misplaced Modifier & The Grammar Devotional
This podcast was written by Bonnie Trenga, author of The Curious Case of the Misplaced Modifier, who blogs at sentencesleuth.blogspot.com, and I'm Mignon Fogarty, the author of The Grammar Devotional--featuring 365 bite-size writing tips, fun quizzes and puzzles, and efficient memory tricks.
1. Garner, B. Garner's Modern American Usage. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003, p. 277.
2. Strunk, William; and White, E.B. The Elements of Style, Fourth Edition. New York, Longman, 2000, pp. 44-5.
3. O’Conner, P. Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English. New York: Riverhead Books, 1996, p. 110.
4. Burchfield, R. W, ed. The New Fowler’s Modern English Usage. Third edition. New York: Oxford, 1996, p. 232.
5. American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005, pp. 151-2.
6. Burchfield, R. W, ed. The New Fowler’s Modern English Usage. Third edition. New York: Oxford, 1996, p. 233.
7. O’Conner, P. Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English. New York: Riverhead Books, 1996, p. 190.
8. American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006, p.1624.
Bad Sentence: The reason Squiggly ate chocolate was because he was nervous. ["The reason...was because" is redundant.]
Better Sentence: Squiggly ate chocolate because he was nervous.
Bad Sentence: The reason Aardvark likes to fish is because it's peaceful at the lake. ["The reason...is because" is redundant.]
Better Sentence: Aardvark likes to fish because it's peaceful at the lake.
Bad Sentence: Squiggly objected to fish for dinner on the grounds that it would make the campsite smelly. ["On the grounds that" is wordy.]
Better Sentence: Squiggly objected to fish for dinner because it would make the campsite smelly.
Bad Sentence: Aardvark was late for work due to his broken alarm clock. [The sentence breaks the traditionalist rule that "due to" is only used as an adjective.]
Better Sentence: Aardvark was late for work because his alarm clock is broken.
Bad Sentence: Since the peeves attacked Squiggly, people have been thinking that the town needs a sheriff. ["Since" is ambiguous; it could mean "since the time that" or "because."]
Better Sentence 1: Because the peeves attacked Squiggly, people have been thinking that the town needs a sheriff.
Better Sentence 2: Ever since the peeves attacked Squiggly, people have been thinking that the town needs a sheriff.