The plants have shut down for lack of funds.

Why can we not say:

The plants have shut down for shortage of funds.

I can not tell the difference.


The difference is not large, but "lack of" would suggest that there are no funds at all (or none left) while "shortage of" suggests that there are some funds but not enough.

  • Sorry, but I think that difference is significantly less than "not large". In any case, it has no relevance at all in terms of explaining why OP's version #1 is common as muck, whereas his #2 is virtually unknown. – FumbleFingers Mar 22 '19 at 16:56

This is quite an interesting question. I'm sure the vast majority of native speakers would agree that in the exact context, for is far more acceptable followed by lack than by shortage.

Given Google Books claims over 15,000 written instances of dismissed for lack of evidence, it's hard to see how anyone could justify claiming for can't validly be used in such contexts. And I really can't be bothered to get bogged down in pedantic differentiation between owing to and due to - look that up elsewhere if you're interested.

It's worth pointing out that Google Books has just one readable instance of closed for shortage of funds, compared to an estimated 5060 hits for closed for lack of funds, so it's hardly "a matter of opinion" that there's something "wrong" with the former.

Having said that, my own opinion is that this is a fairly extreme example of a particular sequence of words (for lack of X) having become so idiomatically established that we're still happy to use it even though the construction has fallen out of use in other contexts. And it really was quite popular and natural, as reflected by the well-known proverb/ditty...

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the battle was lost.


...where For lack of a nail the shoe was lost is a far from unknown variant.

The use of for as a direct replacement for because of has declined significantly over the centuries - probably because English has become increasingly reliant on using different prepositions to reflect different meanings. And in respect of "explanatory" clauses, for has largely settled on the sense of in order to ("internal" purpose) rather than as a consequence of ("external" reason).

But we've clung tenaciously to the very well established for lack of sequence - in which context it's worth noting that after a, the next most common word following those three is actually evidence (and wouldn't you know it, the third most common word is funds!). I could speculate that this "unusually strong retention" is partly because it's long been common in legal contexts (which are particularly resistant to change). But that really is just "idle speculation".

  • Interestingly, it seems that owing to a shortage... was about as common as due to until WW2 (actually, more common in BrE). But there's been a massive shift since then (I did say "Don't get me started on that one! :) – FumbleFingers Mar 23 '19 at 13:22
  • I'd like to hope almost the entirety of my answer is irrelevant to the due to / owing to choice! That wasn't the question. I don't think OP is particularly interested in the difference between lack and shortage per se either - except insofar as this seems to have a huge effect on whether or not we can naturally use for in the sense of because of , due to, owing to, on account of. And hopefully, the reason for that difference is what I've addressed. – FumbleFingers Mar 23 '19 at 14:03

I think part of the issue is that "funds" is a difficult example, because it is a word ending in "-s" (which usually signifies plural), but in fact doesn't specify a singular or plural (you would not say "one fund/many funds" here, although there are contexts like investment funds where you can say this, the word is used differently for that).

Suppose we use a different word, in the same sentence, to make this clearer:

  • "The building was not completed because of a shortage of bricks."
  • "The building was not completed because of a lack of bricks."

Here the difference is easier to see. A shortage means literally, there was insufficient supply/availability. A lack means there were none at all.


The plants have shut down due to a shortage of funds.

The plants have shut down due to a lack of funds.

You can say both but not with "for".

I agree with my colleague who says shortage means not enough. I also think shortage is best used with things like food or supplies, and not with the word fund.

Please note: "due to a shortage of funds" is very common.

The term "a shortage of funds" is very common". But not this: x is closed "for a shortage of funds."

See for yourselves:

closed due to a shortage of funds

closed due to a shortage of funds

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