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"Different from" vs. "Different than"

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  Ed Good  —  Grammar Tips
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The word than typically follows a comparative adjective, such as closer or more bizarre. You would thus say:

K  Street is closer than M Street.

Or you would say:

This movie was more bizarre than any movie she had ever seen.

The word than suggests some sort of comparison. Hence, we use the comparative adjective plus the word than. The expression is usually followed by a noun, pronoun, or other noun form.

The word different is an adjective, but it is not a comparative adjective. As a result, among some stylists you’ll find a distinct preference for the expression different from. You would thus say:

These shirts are different from the ones I bought last year.

Or you would say:

His car is different from mine.

In the above examples, the expression is followed by a noun (ones) or pronoun (mine) form.

You’ll need to use different than, however, when you want to follow the expression not with a noun but with a clause. The word than then serves as a conjunction that gets the clause going. Thus, you would say:

This experience was different than he thought it would be.

Or you would say:

My birthday this year was different than it was last year.

In the latter example, if you used different from, you would have to provide a noun or pronoun to serve as the object of from:

My birthday this year was different from what it was last year.

So a big distinction between the two expressions is this: different from typically requires a noun or noun form to complete the expression, while different than may be followed by a clause.

New Fowler says that both different from and different than have flourished in America. New Fowler, p. 212. I once thought that most professional writers would use the preferred different from. But on July 30, 2001, the following appeared on Slate.com:

Washington, D.C., is different than Hollywood, or Manhattan, or any other city in which young girls attach themselves to older, successful men. Dahlia Lithwick, “G-Girl Confidential,” July 30, 2001, Slate.com.

New Fowler notes that writers prefer different from in Britain. Garner Oxford urges the use of different from in America, because than implies a comparison and different is not a comparative adjective. Garner Oxford, p. 101.

But in Britain, as in America, we do find the two expressions different from and different than used interchangeably, though stylists favor different from. The OED traces the use of different from to 1590 and different than to 1644. New Fowler, p. 212. The British also use a structure sounding strange to American ears: different to. Consider this example:

I found that a meadow seen against the light was an entirely different tone of green to the same meadow facing the light. New Fowler, p. 212.

Though it sounds strange, the structure different to is (how shall I say this?) similar to the structure similar to. If something can be similar to something else, why can’t it be different to something else? We’ll have to ask Igor, Amber, and Miss Hamrick.

So here’s the best advice:

Ordinarily, favor different from over different than. Use different than when you want a clause to follow the expression. Be consistent within the paper.

 

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11 Comments

  • It does hurt my ears and eyeballs, but I'm afraid I must give in to the use of "different than." I have the same issue with "based off," but the newer generations have mine outnumbered.
    LikeReply15 days ago
  • As an American I've only ever known the word "from" to mean where someone or something came from. To say "different from" sounds as weird as saying "different went."
    LikeReply5 months ago
  • Even with a clause you just need to add the noun and use "from." Using "than" inherently makes the sentence not mean anything. Differ to different is like diverge to divergent. You can't have X be "divergent than" Y, it simply doesn't mean anything whether followed by a clause or noun. X can differ from Y but cannot differ than Y. 
    LikeReply 47 months ago
  • When I first came to here, I went grocery shopping and there was a line of people at the check out. One guy was standing akimbo askew. I asked him " are you in the queue? He said, "What?! I repeated the sentence. Then he exclaimed, "Oh you mean the line? I said, it's not a line, he won't hear it. 
    LikeReply 21 year ago
  • That birthday sentence is wrong in its entirety. "My birthday this year was different from last year's. Not different than. That's a retarded illiterate/street slang. Also americans use "had" for every past event. Uggh! 
    LikeReply 31 year ago
    • Different sentence structure. They use the pronoun "it". Yours uses a similar structure but with an assumed subject with the difference being that the year (i.e. "year's") possesses ownership of the 'it' (birthday). This changes the rules. In short, I'll illustrate by using the exact example they used while changing only the 'than' to 'from'. It isn't good at all: Their argument: Original: "My birthday this year was different than it was last year." Changed to: "My birthday this year was different from it was last year." ^^^ Yikes! But... Your (correct) sentence: "My birthday this year was different from last year's." - 'year' takes possession, as in "last year's *birthday*" (assumed subject). Your incorrect (incorrect on purpose) correction: "My birthday this year was different than last year's" <-- I agree with you as do others, but your argument isn't congruent with the original subject matter. In fact, it is so non-sequitur that I'm not able to effectively explain why on account that there are too many variables involved for one equation, as they might say. I don't think I'm being pedantic about this (assuming you might). Your argument should be a parallel or congruent one. __ As for the past tense thing - do you mean this?: "I had done it" as opposed to "I did it" (both gramatically correct) Yes, "Americans..." aren't perfect, but neither is your argument here either. For example, in conversation, "I had done it" might be used to accentuate that it was done and that you actually did it to defend yourself from an argument against you (i.e., that you didn't do it). As an alternative, saying "I did it" might parlay an almost apologetic undertone (depending on voice inflection). This is just an intricacy that illustrates how the English language is able to be so expressive. But feel free to be a two-dimensional 'rattatttat' speaker. Won't bother me none. 
      LikeReply 310 months ago
  • I totally agree with Ed Good.
    LikeReply 11 year ago
  • It's much more simple than this article suggests. One writes / says "different than" only with "more" to compare two differences. EXAMPLE: "Dogs and cats are more different than horses and zebras." For a simple one to one comparison, it should ALWAYS be "different from". 
    LikeReply 61 year ago
    • Absolutely. It's so ear aching to hear misapplications like this especially when you are well versed in the English language. I feel people make shoddy excuses for these mistakes instead of acknowledging and correcting it. 
      LikeReply 31 year ago
    • Sheikh Walid I agree. I am an American and I think that the worst offenders are Australians. I spent five and a half months in Australia and I was appalled.
      LikeReply 211 months ago
  • ...or as used by the President: "I’m for guns, he’s against guns . . . A developer is a lot different than as a candidate.”Trump, WAPO Jan. 31, 2019.
    LikeReply 21 year ago
  • Clear and interesting.
    LikeReply 11 year ago
  • As regards "different from" vs "similar to," the word "similar" suggests a coming together whereas "different" suggests a separation. With that in mind, the use of "similar to" and "different from" is logical and natural. 
    LikeReply 82 years ago
    • I was thinking this as well. We would not say, "He left to DFW airport" when indicating DFW as the departure point. The only way I can think of to make "to" grammatically acceptable is to accept an implicit comparative phrase that has dropped out: "The new shirt was different (compared) to the old one." 
      LikeReply 41 year ago
    • Did we open the similar can of worms?
      LikeReply1 year ago
    • "developer"??? Who is this developer?
      LikeReply1 year ago
    • Absolutely. It's so ear aching to hear misapplications like this especially when you are well versed in the English language. I feel people make shoddy excuses for these mistakes instead of acknowledging and correcting it. 
      LikeReply1 year ago
  • Thank you so much. This cleared up a lot for me.
    LikeReply 23 years ago

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