Given the sentence,
This exception was thrown __ invalid input.
Which preposition should I use to fill in the blank — because of or due to?
Is either generally preferable for specifying cause or reason?
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Very simply, due to modifies nouns and because of modifies verbs. They are not interchangeable, though the perception of due to being 'more intelligent' than because of ensures that plenty of people misuse it - delicious irony!
His failure was due to poor preparation
Here, due to poor preparation is modifying his failure via the linking verb was, so the sentence works. If we change the sentence:
He failed due to poor preparation
Here, due to poor preparation is modifying.... errrrr. There is nothing for it to modify. If we correct the sentence:
He failed because of poor preparation
Now, because of modifies failed and the sentence works.
You will hear some people saying this is prescriptive and old fashioned blah blah blah, but they are simple excusing ignorance by calling it language change. Not knowing an adjective from and adverb is not language change.
Looking at my examples, notice how due to follows was, and because of doesn't? That is one quick and easy indicator that you should be using due to. Another is to substitute caused by.
His failure was caused by poor preparation
is okay, but
*He failed caused by poor preparation
Using your example, substituting caused by gives us
This exception was thrown caused by invalid input.
which doesn't work, nor is there a linking verb, so
This exception was thrown because of invalid input.
Further reading can be found in:
The BBC Style Guide - "Due to. This means caused by, not because of".
The Telegraph Style Guide - "due to is used adjectivally and, therefore, needs a noun to modify"
The Economist Style Guide - "When used to mean caused by, due to must follow a noun, as in The cancellation, due to rain, of... Do not write It was cancelled due to rain. If you mean because of and for some reason are reluctant to say it, you probably want owing to. It was cancelled owing to rain is all right."
Elements of Style - "Due to. Incorrectly used for through, because of, or owing to, in adverbial phrases: "He lost the first game, due to carelessness." In correct use related as predicate or as modifier to a particular noun: "This invention is due to Edison;" "losses due to preventable fires.""
Kansas University - " The word pairs “because of” and “due to” are not interchangeable. The reason they are not is that they “grew up” differently in the language. “Because of” grew up as an adverb; “due to” grew up as an adjective. Remember that adjectives modify only nouns or pronouns, whereas adverbs usually modify verbs."
Roaring Fish's answer is prescriptivist, and apparently uses only 'selective' (ie not looking at the whole history) prescriptivism.
11. due to
a. attributable to; ascribable to [I'll add 'caused by']: The delay was due to heavy traffic.
b. because of; owing to: All planes are grounded due to fog.
- Due to as a prepositional phrase meaning “because of, owing to” has been in use since the 14th century: Due to the sudden rainstorm, the picnic was moved indoors. Some object to this use on the grounds that due is historically an adjective and thus should be used only predicatively in constructions like The delay was due to electrical failure.
And from the related thread here (I've reformatted slightly):
Fowler's Modern English Usage points out that the objection to “due to” as a compound preposition “is an entirely 20th Century phenomenon - but it begins to look as if this use of ‘due to’ will form part of the natural language of the 21st Century” .
The American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style agrees, stating that “The tide has turned toward accepting ‘due to’ as a full-fledged preposition.” - See more at: http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/because-due-to-since-and-as?page=all#sthash.ud7a2XSe.dpuf
(I'd prefer 'and what is more' to the 'but' in the quote from Fowler.)