Monday, June 8, 2015

Much Ado Over Due

Like many people who speak English, I say "due to" a lot.
Recently, for example, on my eBay listings, I added a note: "Due to the Christmas holiday, handling time on this item may be extended." According to grammarians, this is an incorrect usage.

The phrase "due to" (or, specifically, "due") is an adjective, and adjectives describe nouns, not entire sentences. So I would be correct in saying "The extended handling time on this item is due to the Christmas holiday" (in which sentence "due" describes the "handling time"). But saying "Handling time is extended due to the Christmas holiday" is casting "due to" as an adverbial phrase (like "because of"), and if you want "due" to become an adverb, you spell it "duly".

So what to do?

I first learned this little intricacy of English (much to my astonishment and puzzlement — it took me forever to comprehend why the common usage is wrong) thanks to Claire Kehrwald Cook (who neglected to clarify whether using "thanks to" in this format is equally wrong) in her book, Line By Line: How to Improve Your Own Writing, back when I was still studying for my master's degree. In this book, Cook explains that while most grammar guides advise against using "due to" as an adverb, hardly anyone actually cares.

So I (and you—come on, I know you like to start sentences with "due to" too!) am off the hook. Except for that little anal-retentive part of me that makes horrified faces at the other part of me whenever it tries to get away with this usage. Being your own worst critic is so much more uncomfortable than having hordes of hecklers.

Until next time, fellow language lovers, I'll be around somewhere, self-flagellating. You can say I'm doing it due to guilt.

*Editor's note: I wrote this post in January of 2013 and then promptly lost it until today, when I happened to notice the "drafts" tab in my blogger settings. So, while you might be wondering why I would be talking about the Christmas holidays in June, now you know. And if you were wondering whether I still say "due to," let me put the answer this way. If someone were assert that I don't say "due to" any more, I would have to respond, "I do, too."

But I still can't stop thinking about it, usually trying to replace the incorrect phrase with something else, unless the resulting sentence becomes too clumsy.