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I know that because of modifies verbs, whereas due to modifies nouns. However, what do I do if I see something like:

We find that X is better than Y is most cases, due to lack of support for Y.

Here, it seems like due to is modifying better, an adjective (I think). Is due to acceptable, or is it correct to use because in such cases?

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2 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Long ago, the principle used to be that due to is adjectival, and owing to is adverbial.

In OP's example, "due to" adverbially modifies "We find", so strictly speaking (long ago) it wouldn't have been acceptable. OP would have to rephrase along the lines of...

Our conclusion that X is better than Y in most cases is due to lack of support for Y.

...which "correctly" makes a noun (our conclusion) the object of due to.

By the same principle, some might say because of is also adverbial, and that you should say "I am weak because of hunger", rather than "My weakness is because of hunger". I'm not one of those.

In practice due to, owing to, and because of are now used interchangeably. Only a few die-hard pedants maintain that adjectival/adverbial distinction today.

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Wouldn't adding the after due to in OP's example make the sentence a bit clearer. I am not saying the current one is wrong but adding an article will make it closer to the most common usage. What do you think? Google seems to agree. –  Noah Aug 21 '12 at 5:50
    
@Noah: Adding "the" is entirely optional. It doesn't affect meaning, grammaticality, or imho legibility (but if you say it makes the sentence easier to read, I can't argue with that! :). I don't know why you say "Google seems to agree" - clearly it doesn't –  FumbleFingers Aug 21 '12 at 11:19
    
Sorry, your are right. I did a manual search and must have overlooked the whole thing. Thanks for the link:) –  Noah Aug 22 '12 at 5:22
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FumbleFingers provides an excellent answer to your specific question about because of and due to.

However, this sentence has larger problems which that answer does not address.

  1. It's not clear what clause (not noun or verb) due to &c modifies—is it We find or X is better than Y or X is better than Y in most cases?
  2. It's not clear what clause in most cases modifies—is it We find or X is better than Y? The comma seems to preclude its modifying anything that follows; but it's quite possible that the author meant it to modify either due to lack of support for Y or even just lack of support for Y.

So it might mean a great number of things:

  • We find that X is in most cases better than Y. We attribute this superiority to a general lack of support for Y; if Y were better supported, there would have been more cases where Y is better than X.
  • We find that X is in most cases better than Y. We attribute this superiority to a lack of support for Y in those specific cases; wherever Y is even modestly supported Y is clearly better than X.
  • We find that X is in most cases better than Y. We attribute this finding to a general lack of support for Y; our methodology assumed Y would be better supported, so our finding may not be valid.
  • We find that X is better than Y. In most cases this was clearly attributable to a lack of support for Y; but in other cases Y was adequately supported and X was still superior.
  • In most cases we find that X is better than Y, and in these cases we attribute this superiority to a lack of support for Y. In the remaining cases, however, Y is just as poorly supported, and yet Y is clearly better than X; we are at a loss to explain this.

And so forth and so on—I'll let you work out all the permutations.

It's a very slovenly sentence. The old practice which FumbleFingers describes might have resolved some of these issues, but not all of them.

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Thanks, that was my other concern, which arose after I posted the sentence. Could you shed some light on how to explicate what is being modified? We can look at this sentence as an example. –  EnglishAsASecondLanguage Aug 21 '12 at 16:36
    
@EnglishAsASecondLanguage - Alas, no. That's just my point: I could guess what it means; I could even guess with some confidence if I had access to the entire report; but it's the writer's job to keep me from having to guess. –  StoneyB Aug 21 '12 at 19:58
    
So there's no way to "strategically" place commas to accentuate what is being modified in the sentence I quoted? Is it "beyond repair" in that sense? Sorry if this sounds too pedantic, I'm just trying to learn for the future. –  EnglishAsASecondLanguage Aug 21 '12 at 23:52
    
@EnglishAsASecondLanguage Yes, it is quite possible for the writer to repair it by moving words and inserting commas. But the writer knows what it means. The reader can't know what it means until it has been fixed! –  StoneyB Aug 22 '12 at 0:22
    
I can't upvote this, because it doesn't address the specific question OP asked. But it's an excellent summary of the semantic problems - which in the final analysis are far more important (meaningful?!) than grammar and pedantry. I leave it to the reader to decide what "can't" means at the start of this comment (all meanings are flexible! :) –  FumbleFingers Aug 22 '12 at 1:53
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