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Grammar: “Different from,” almost never “different than” June 10, 2009

Posted by federalist in Language.
Tags: , ,

Different is an adjective form of the verb to differ.

If one thing differs from another then we can say “One thing is different from another.”

We cannot say “One thing is different than another” any more than “One thing differs than another.”

Generally different from is correct and different than is not.

But of course one thing can differ more than another, in which case we can say, “One thing is more different than another.”  It is correct to use different than when different is part of a comparative adjective.

The strange exception to the general rule: Use different than when different modifies an elliptical clause (i.e., a clause in which words have been omitted).  For example, “The path follows a different route than the map shows.”

According to this page, the Collins Cobuild Bank of English shows that Americans have developed a tendency to butcher these rules in normal speech.  Meanwhile, the British are prone to use the absolutely incorrect formulation different to.



1. Daniel - August 17, 2010

How is “different to” any more wrong than “different than”?

The elliptical stuff is absolutely irrelevant. “Than” simply cannot fit with “different”. 30 seconds of research on the word “than” explains how this is so. A vulgarism is a vulgarism and “different to” and “different than” are equally nonsensical, regardless of how many make the error.

p.s. – I’m obviously disregarding the case where “different” is used as a comparative adjective, for this argument.

2. StuartD - September 1, 2011

According to the entry for different from, different to, different than at Bartleby.com,

These three have been usage items for many years. All are Standard and have long been so (different to is limited to British English, however), but only different from seems never to meet objections.

From Fowler comes this pronouncement:

That different can only be followed by from and not by to is a superstition.

He points out that “writers of all ages” have used different to. He does not mention the use of different than.

“…Attitudes have softened in the past century; authorities now agree that to and even the maligned than have their place.

“The problem for conservative arbiters is that all three forms have been used for hundreds of years. Shakespeare is the first writer known to have used different from — before his time unto and to were usual.”

” Considering how much it has been denigrated, the than form has also been surprisingly common: the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary more than a century ago gave a long list of good writers who have used it, including Addison, Steele, Richardson, Defoe, Fanny Burney, Coleridge, Southey, De Quincey, Goldsmith, Thackeray, and Carlyle. Eighteenth-century grammarians held that than was always a conjunction and so could not be used as a preposition in a similar way to from and to; that view prevailed, though the opposing opinion was argued forcefully even at the time and is now accepted by all grammarians.”

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