Due to a lack of attention or understanding of English grammar, many Americans have, for several generations, used the adjective due as part of a prepositional phrase to introduce adverbial elements- to the disapproval of some strict grammarians. Although I prefer their prescription, for reasons of style, I must oppose their claim to correctness, on the pragmatic grounds of logic and sensibility.
The most shakily grounded argument against the adverbial use is one of etiquette or style. Wilson Follett considers this use as “poor workmanship” which is “loose and lawless….rare in writers other than those who take advantage of every latitude.” (Follett). H. W. Fowler also reveals a negative bias in his statement that “due to is often used by illiterates” ( Qtd. in Morris). But, as Bergen Evans said, “it is used to qualify a verb millions of times every day. And it is used in this way in very respectable places.” So, if we are to devise and enforce laws of grammar based on usage by a particular social class or the preference of some who disapprove of its workmanship-who I might add are a minority-then we should sharpen our pencils, and prepare our oratories, for the battle we’ve begun hardly ends with this issue and is certain to be long and arduous.
A second argument, best stated by Follett, that not every locution is right by virtue of its existence, appears to highlight the noble defense of language from the deterioration caused by uneducated and uncouth use. If this were the case here, I would heartily applaud Follett and Fowler for their defense. But it is not the case. For example, engraved tablets adorning the Philadelphia state house read, ” Here sat the Continental Congress…except when…it sat in Baltimore, and in…Lancaster and in…York, due to the temporary occupation of Philadelphia by the British army.” (Qtd. In Evans). And in 1957 Queen Elizabeth II opened her addressed of the Canadian parliment with, “Due to inability to market their grain, prairie farmers have been faced for some time with a shortage of sums…” (qtd. In Morris). The wide spread, public and formal use of due to for adverbial elements hardly qualifies it as uneducated or uncouth and actually contradicts the definition of locution. In fact, if precise usage is the issue, I think it would be more accurate to call the grammarians substitution of other phrases in adverbial uses a locution.
A third, and probably the closest to being valid, argument against the adverbial prepositional use of due to was stated by Theodore Bernstein when he wrote, “Strict grammarians object to the usage on the grounds that the adjectival character of due is…disregarded”. This statement -if left unanswered-would appear to be on grammatically solid footing. Unfortunately for strict grammarians, who William Morris calls “purists”, this position has not only been answered, but the footing under it has been so disturbed that if the ground were literal it would be unsafe to build upon. Firstly, George Curme wrote in 1928 “the preposition due to is not more incorrect than the preposition owing to…” ( Qtd. in Bernstien). This position is supported by Evans who adds that there is no theoretical basis for the distinction between the two as they are grammatically alike, and even Follett accepts owing to for introducing adverbial elements. Secondly, Webster’s dictionary as early as 1934 listed due to as “meaning because of and introducing an adverbial modifier” (Follett). Thirdly, by 1940 linguists were voting by “considerable majority” (Morris) to approve the usage despite a group of “minority” “critics” as Morris and Evans respectively call them. Finaly, as best stated by Heywood Hale Brown, ” Rules of grammar which don’t contribute to clarity can be thrown out with the classroom chalk stubs.” (Morris p.593).
Although I agree that due to is overworked and lacks a graceful tone, neither social standing nor style of usage qualify it as ungrammatical, and one can hardly build a case against it on the grammatical quicksand of its standing as an adjective. So, although the arguments of these “purists” may echo in the halls of English departments and the ears of their students for awhile longer, they are likely to become footnotes in the history of English grammar.
Evans, Bergen and Cornelia Evans. A Dictionary Of Contemporary American Usage. New York: Random, 1957
Follett, Wilson. Modern American Usuage. New York: Hill, 1966
Morris, William and Mary Morris. Harper Dictionary of Contemporary Usage. New York: Harper, 1975