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"Due to" seems more common than "owing to" in modern English. Is "owing to" simply an old-fashioned way of saying the same thing, or is there a rule to using it?

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Indeed, there are some "rules" governing this usage... The most famous of them is probably the one that says, "Never begin a sentence with 'due to'"! But, alas, there is a huge debate (still ongoing?) over the prepositional/adjectival function of due to. Thus, that rule may not hold water! –  Jimi Oke Jan 27 '11 at 18:04
I was taught the following rule in school, and I've taken it as gospel: never start a sentence with "due to". As for evidence supporting this rule, I can't help you, but my teacher was really good and seemed to guide me correctly in other uses of language. –  user4197 Jan 27 '11 at 22:48
I'd like to see a reason for this rule more than evidence. Due to my... ah whatever, I just had to make a sentence that broke this rule. ;-) –  Jürgen A. Erhard Jan 30 '11 at 20:14

4 Answers 4

I think perhaps the distinction has fallen out of favour, but "due to" seems to apply to nouns and "owing to" applies to verbs. As in: "he was beaten owing to his lack of skill" vs. "his defeat was due to his lack of skill".

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That's... not sure it's correct, but your examples do ring true: swapping "due" and "owing" around makes both sound... wrong. Or at least weird. –  Jürgen A. Erhard Jan 30 '11 at 20:16

There is a difference between "Due to" and "Owing to" in meaning. "Due to" means "caused by", however, "Owing to" means "because of" and it comes always at the beginning of the sentence. Besides "owing to" as a result or consequence of something.

Here are examples for better understanding:

  1. Owing to illness, he missed the exam. (because of illness etc.)
  2. His absence was due to illness. (His absence was caused by...)
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AHDEL (and Collins Cobuild) disagree with the dogmatic

'due to must be preceded by and followed by a noun phrase'

It offers [bolding mine]:

due to prep. Because of.

Usage Note: Due to has been widely used for many years as a compound preposition like owing to, but some critics have insisted that due should be used only as an adjective. According to this view, it is incorrect to say The concert was canceled due to the rain, but acceptable to say The cancellation of the concert was due to the rain, where due continues to function as an adjective modifying cancellation.

This seems a fine point, however, and since due to is widely used and understood, there seems little reason to avoid using it as a preposition.

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Owing to and because of are interchangeable; they are slightly different from due to, since the latter is preceded and followed by a noun phrase.

he vomited because of eating rotten food he vomited owing to / on account of eating rotten food his vomit is due to the eating of rotten food

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