September 2006 Vol. 11 Issue 3
Grammar Trap: because of vs. due to

Do I lose my appetite because of a stomachache, or do I lose my appetite due to a stomachache?

That’s a trap I often see writers fall into, particularly when reading scholarly works. Too often, writers want to use the more formal sounding “due to” when they should be using “because of.”

According to Kelli Trungale of the University of Houston-Victoria, “due to” modifies nouns and often follows “to be” verbs (is, was, were, am, etc.).

Example: My loss of appetite was due to a stomachache.

In this case, “due to” modifies “stomachache” and follows the to be verb, “was.”

“Because of,” on the other hand, modifies verbs.

Example: I lost my appetite because of a stomachache.

In this case, “because of” modifies the verb, “lost.”

A good rule of thumb: use “because of” if you can answer the question, “Why?” without a complete sentence.

Why did you lose your appetite? You’d answer, “Because of a stomachache.”

So which phrase should you use?

I recommend “because of” in most situations. Why? Look at the first example again. Notice that the only verb is “was,” a rather weak, to be verb. In the second example, however, “lost” is a verb and much stronger than a to be verb.

And don’t get me started on the empty phrase, “due to the fact that . . .” This phrase almost never adds anything to your sentence except three more words and a touch of pomposity.

Thanks to Lois Edwards for suggesting this topic.

Kevin Leigh Smith,
Do you have a Grammar Trap idea? Do you want On Target to cover a topic that interests you? E-mail your ideas to Kevin Leigh Smith