Talking about death isn’t the most enjoyable thing you will do with your time, but, at some point, you’ll find yourself in a conversation with a friend and wonder, “should we say ‘died of’ or ‘died from’ in a sentence?”
Depending on the context, either “died of” or “died from” can be correct. You would use “died of” if someone died of old age, a disease, or something internal that caused their body to shut down. In contrast, you would use “died from” if the person died because of an injury or an external trauma.
It is true that “died of” and “died from” can be interchangeable, but there are times when neither are appropriate. Keep reading to find out how best to use “died of” and “died from” in conversation.
Is It Grammatically Correct to Say “Died Of”?
It is grammatically correct to say “died of” in a sentence if you are referring to a subject that died of an internal or natural cause like cancer, a disease, or old age.
“Died of” literally means “died because of,” so when you say someone died of something, you are stating the reason why their body shut down.
- Tiffany died of complications with COVID-19.
- Tiffany died because of complications with COVID.
In the above example, notice that the first sentence is the shortened version of the second sentence, and both sentences have the exact same meaning.
What Does “Died of” Mean?
When you use “died” and “of” together as a single phrase, it explains the relationship between the subject, or living being, and death.
When we break down the phrase “died of,” we find that “die,” the present tense version of “died,” is a verb that means deceased or no longer alive. A verb is generally an action word, so you could think about the word “die” as ceasing to live.
In this phrase, “of” is a preposition that expresses the relationship between death and the literal cause of that death.
How Do You Use “Died Of”?
You can use “died of” in both written and verbal communication to voice how you know or think someone died. When you say someone “died of” something, you are stating their direct cause of death as you understand it.
- Martha was 105 years old when she died of old age.
- It wasn’t long after John’s diagnosis that he died of cancer.
In both examples, the cause of death is clear in the statement. Even if the direct cause of death is a bit vague, you would still use “died of” to describe it.
Using “Died of” in a Full Sentence
When you use “died of” in a full sentence, it is best to keep in mind the reason why your subject died and incorporate that into your sentence structure. Keep the following sentence structure in mind when you are creating a full sentence with “died of”:
Subject + Died (Verb) of (Preposition) + (Direct Cause of Death)
- My Great Grandfather, Mathew, died of the Spanish flu in 1919.
This general structure is good to use in most cases where you know your subject’s direct cause of death (source).
As you can see, you can also add other relevant information about death, and your sentence will still be correct.
In What Context Can You Use “Died Of”?
In general, as I mentioned earlier, you would use “died of” in situations where you know the direct cause of death. This is because you say “died of” or “died because of” when you are talking about something that happened internally or naturally to cause the death of your subject.
When Can You Use “Died Of”?
A heart attack, a brain aneurysm, a disease, cancer, or a virus are prime examples of when you would want to use “died of” in a sentence.
- The man died of massive heart failure after winning the triathlon.
All of these are, more or less, natural causes. Even if the death is sudden, like in the above example, the cause developed naturally or within its own natural cycle.
This is important to remember when using “died of” to describe someone’s death.
Using “Died of” as a Figure of Speech
“Died of” in a sentence does not always have to have a morbid meaning. Sometimes, you can use “died of” as a figure of speech. This means that you can use the phrase in a non-literal way to express an exaggerated feeling (source).
- I almost died of fright when the fireworks went off near my window.
- Katie nearly died of embarrassment after falling in front of her school crush.
Of course, the subjects in the above examples did not actually die. “Died of,” in this case, is a way of expressing the extreme emotions of the subject.
When Not to Use “Died Of”
It is easy to want to use “died of” in every situation when you are discussing someone’s death, but there are times when it is not appropriate to use “died of” in a sentence.
If your subject died because of an external cause, like an injury or a traumatic event, it is not technically correct to use “died of” to explain their cause of death.
For instance, it wouldn’t sound right to a native speaker to say that a person died of a fire or died of a stabbing. Although the fire or stabbing may be the indirect cause leading to the subject’s death, smoke inhalation or massive blood loss would probably be the direct cause of death.
- Incorrect: Brandon died of being shot in the chest.
- Correct: Brandon died of suffocation after a bullet pierced his lung.
In the above examples, although someone shooting Brandon was the cause of death, it is still an indirect cause. The clasped lung that led to Brandon’s suffocation was the direct cause of death.
What Can You Use Instead of “Died of”?
There are a few phrases that you can use instead of “died of,” but it depends on the way that the subject passed away.
As a general rule, if the person you are talking about died because of a fire or car accident, you would say, “died in.”
- The old man died in a house fire last week.
- Steffan died in a car accident yesterday.
If the person you are talking about died because of a terrorist attack or mass shooting, you would say, “died during.”
- Thomas died during the 9/11 attack on the Twin Towers.
- Uncle Ryan died during the Pearl Harbor attack in Hawaii.
If the person you are talking about died to support a cause — such as while fighting in a war for a country, a religion, or for an organization — you would say, “died for.”
- Mitchell was a hero who died for his country.
- The people in the cult died for their religious beliefs.
You can also say “died for” if you are talking about someone who sacrificed themselves for someone else.
Notice in the next example that you can use “died so” or “died to” as well when speaking about sacrifices.
- Black Widow died for all of the people who Thanos snapped.
- Black Widow died to bring back everyone who Thanos snapped.
- Black Widow died so that everyone snapped by Thanos could come back.
Notice that the change in the prepositions in each sentence above does not change the sentence’s meaning. It only changes the wording of the sentence, but the fact that Black Widow died in service of others is still clear.
Is It “Died of” or “Died From”?
As we know, we reserve the phrase “died of” for circumstances involving internal or natural causes of death.
In addition to this, substitutions, like “died in,” “died for,” or “died during” help to describe other, less natural, causes of death.
If you are discussing a person who died because of an injury or an external trauma, you would say “died from” when you talk about their death (source).
- This John Doe died from blunt force trauma to the head.
- Two people died from multiple gunshot wounds after a mass shooting.
In both of the above examples, the subjects died from the trauma inflicted directly on them by an external source.
In most classes, deaths described with “died from” are sudden or unexpected, but this is mostly because of the circumstances surrounding the cause of death.
“Die of” or “Die From”?
“Die” or “to die” is the present tense verb of “died.” This means that “die of” and “die from” are both grammatically correct to use as long as you use them in the proper tense. For example, you can use the forms “die of” and “die from” in both present and future tense.
- You can die of lung cancer if you smoke.
- The doctor says that Jim may die from his injuries, but we hope not.
As long as the tense and context of the sentence match verb tense, you can use “die of” or “die from” like any other verb/preposition combo.
“Died of” or “Died From” Preposition
The prepositions attached to “died” tell a story all their own. When you say that someone “died of’” something, you are saying that they died because of an organic or natural circumstance, like a stroke or influenza (source).
Of course, this meaning is not true when you use “died from.” The preposition “from” in “died from” means the person died as a result of something unnatural, like a fall or asphyxia, which means strangulation.
The prepositions you attach to “died” tell the story of what happened to the person you are talking about before you even get to the part about how that person died.
Died of Cholera or Died From Cholera?
The preposition you use for a pandemic or outbreak like Cholera is the same as if you were to use it for a virus like the flu or coronavirus: “died of.”
Although it is true that Cholera occurred suddenly and spread quickly through an outside source, it was and still is a disease.
Once it is in your system, the effect it has on the body is organic. The way that your body reacts to the bacteria is natural, so the correct phrase to use is “died of.”
Prepositions are words that help to establish a connection or relationship between nouns and verbs in a sentence (source). There are many different types of prepositions, such as phrasal prepositions or detached prepositions.
Phrasal prepositions, such as “apart from” and “instead of,” are two words that work together to form a cohesive preposition.
Because “died of” is such a common phrase with words that seem to work together this way, it is easy to confuse it with a phrasal preposition. However, “die” is a verb, so it cannot be a preposition. You’ll usually see this action word with prepositions like the common “of” or “from,” but it is not a phrasal preposition.
If you want to learn more about how verbs and prepositions work together, take a look at this article: “Speak to or Speak With: Which One Is Correct?”
Although “die” is not a preposition, you can accompany it with a detached preposition, which is a preposition that ends a sentence. You usually find them at the end of a question. In the case of “die,” there are several detached prepositions you can use. This article was written for strategiesforparents.com.
- What did this young woman die of?
- Which car did he die in?
Notice in the above examples that the prepositions end the sentence. Make sure you check out “Do You End a Question With For?” to learn why it’s okay to end sentences with a preposition.
There are many prepositions you can use with the word “die.” Although “died of” is one of the most well-known, it is certainly not the only way to explain someone’s death. Remember that “died of” may be the wrong preposition to use altogether in some cases.
Whether you say “died of,” “died from,” or even “died for,” the preposition you choose almost always tells part of the story for you before you even finish your sentence or add additional information.