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When should "due to" be preferred over "thanks to", and vice versa? When can they be used interchangeably?

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would be interesting to throw "owing to" into the mix –  bagheera Dec 21 '10 at 16:43
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up vote 16 down vote accepted

Thanks to has a positive connotation (unless used sarcastically). Due to is more neutral - it can have both a negative and a positive connotation.

We postponed our vacation plans due to the oil spill.

It was due to Dwight's efforts that this question was asked.

It was thanks to Dwight's efforts that this question was asked.

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The meaning difference has already been covered, but I think it's worth pointing out that there is also a syntactical difference - the words "due" and "thanks" are not interchangeable, even in contexts where to do so would not affect the meaning.

Consider that, to replace 'due' with 'thanks', this:

We postponed our vacation plans due to the oil spill.

would usually be rephrased as this:

Our vacation was postponed thanks to the oil spill.

Although in the second case, 'due' could be substituted. This is because due can also be interpreted as because, which can be taken as a motivator for personal action, while thanks cannot. It does not make sense to say that I did X thanks to Y, although it would if you were to say X was done thanks to Y. Unless you are using a verb that implies an ability to act, rather than an action itself.

Having said all that, this is such an incredibly subtle distinction that I would not be surprised to discover that it varies by country, or even more finely, but to the best of my knowledge this is how they are - or should be - used.

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Due to: as a result of

Thanks to: with the help of

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The other meaning of thanks to is due to. Both due to, and thanks to can be used with the same meaning, but they have a different connotation. –  kiamlaluno Jan 29 '11 at 20:33
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