Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language

Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language

Article excerpt

A charmingly honest letter comes from Mr Clive Boddington of Haslemere about due to and owing to. 'I remember as a young man,' he writes, 'being taken to task on grammatical grounds, for using the wrong one. Since then I have never met anyone else who can give me an explanation, or who can even see what the problem is.'

I suppose this will leave some of you snorting in rage and some nodding in agreement. I should not worry about it myself if it were not that Kingsley Amis, in his very uneven book The King's English, says, 'I have investigated the origins of this rule, and nothing substantial or satisfactory emerges. It seems to be just a rule.' It is a rule that he wanted to observe, though.

He is right in saying that the rule seems to be one that we have invented in this century as a rod for our own backs. The explanation is simple on a theoretical level. Due is an adjective, even though in the meaning under discussion it is followed by to. Owing to is a compound preposition. Thus you may say She fell flat owing to the ice, but not She fell flat due to the ice. You may say Her fall was due to the ice, because an adjective may be used predicatively (for example, as a complement to a noun subject after the verb to be), as in Her face was blue. …

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