Different than vs. different from vs. different to

Discussion in 'English Only' started by Kelly B, Jun 26, 2005.

  1. Kelly B

    Kelly B Senior Member

    USA English
    In a recent post, the questioner used an example that included the phrase "different than". Since that wasn't the point of the question, I thought I'd start a new thread:

    I strongly prefer "different from". Do you agree?

    << Now incorporating CarolSueC's thread as well as one by teia_55 and another by cyberpedant - and one started by LouisaB .>>
  2. lsp

    lsp Senior Member

    US, English
    My personal opinion was that I could go either way, but you made me curious so I researched it. Without exception I found results that support "different from" as standard English; "different than" as nonstandard (and very AE).
  3. la grive solitaire

    la grive solitaire Senior Member

    United States, English
    I use both, depending on the sentence. Here's what the CMS has to say:

    Q. It has come to my attention, over the last few years, that people are now using the phrase “different than” instead of “different from.” Please warn your readers against this gross misuse of the English language!

    A. Yikes—instead, let’s dodge this bullet. Although British English eschews the use of “different than” and Chicago prefers to avoid it, it’s not incorrect, and in fact is sometimes the more elegant choice when followed by a clause. Various dictionaries and grammars support this view, including Fowler’s Modern English Usage and Webster’s 11th Collegiate Dictionary.
  4. Amityville

    Amityville Senior Member

    English UK
    I feel strongly about this one even if the authorities are relaxing.

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but 'Different' comes from 'to differ' and you would surely always say 'x differs from y', and not 'x differs to y' or 'x differs than y' ? Where could 'than' or 'to' be an improvement ?

    The only time I can think of that would be acceptable would be in a deliberately self-conscious bending of the rules involving degrees of difference ( - more-different-than-thou, eg ).

    Even with this :-
    'x is more different from y than z is'
    'yes, x is more different than z'

    the 'from y' is implicit.

    Aha :idea: maybe 'different to' is by analogy with 'alternative to'. Would you ever say alternative than or from ?

    Back me up, elroy ! (he's not about)
  5. Aupick

    Aupick Senior Member

    Strasbourg, France
    UK, English
    As a kid I was always told off by my parents for saying 'different to' instead of 'different from', but I was never really tempted by 'different than', which has always grated a bit. Here's my ham-fisted attempt to explain why:

    'Than' is usually used to introduce the second element in a comparison (according to Oxford): 'She is smarter than me'. In other words it's used with a marker of comparison ('more', 'less', '-er') along with an adjective or an adverb. 'Than' doesn’t really work without that marker. The sentence 'She is smarter than me' should probably be read as 'She is smart [er than] me', with the [er than] constituting more of a 'word' than 'than'.
    'Different' isn't a comparative, and doesn't have a marker of comparison. It kind of leaves 'than' incomplete, bereft of it's better half. :(

    The other main use of 'than' is in combination with words like rather ('I'd rather play at Wimbledon than watch it on TV') or other ('I was unable to do anything other than fall to my knees and weep'), but 'rather' was originally a comparative (of the adjective 'rathe', according to Oxford, meaning 'blooming early in the year' :) ), and I wouldn’t be surprised if 'other' was too (since it ends in 'er').

    Another way to look at it (if anyone’s still awake...) is to think of maths: '<' means 'greater than', '>' means less than. Different is just '=' with a line through it.
  6. cuchuflete

    cuchuflete Senior Member

    Maine, EEUU
    I'd rather be different than boring! Is that different from the usages under discussion?
  7. Aupick

    Aupick Senior Member

    Strasbourg, France
    UK, English
    rather + than :thumbsup:

    'Different than' works here because 'different' is one of the two ideas being compared (along with boring), and the combination 'rather than' is there to mediate their relationship. ('Different' and 'than' happen to be next to each other in the sentence, but they're not working together.)

    ...whereas as in disputed cases (eg 'Brits are different than Americans') 'different' and 'than' are trying to work together (shakily) to mediate the two ideas being compared (Brits and Americans). ;)
  8. panjandrum

    panjandrum PongoMod

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    I would never have believed it - so I checked - and sure enough, Fowler includes arguments for all three (from, than, to). It does, however, advise against "different from than" in Britain:)
  9. timpeac

    timpeac Senior Member

    English (England)
    I know that I instinctively say "different to" because I had a French teacher once who, rightly, took issue with the fact I had written "différent à" in my essay rather than "différent de" but he used, wrongly, the argument that this should be obvious since in English we say "different from". When I informed him that I certainly didn't he was less than impressed. But hey, he was an idiot and I let in all go a long time ago after extensive therapy.
  10. cuchuflete

    cuchuflete Senior Member

    Maine, EEUU
    I have a favorite old book that reeks of common sense: A Dictionary of Contemporary American Usage, Evans, Bergen and Evans, C. Random House,NY 1957.

    Some excerpts...
    In the entry for "different from, different than", the authors tell us that..."different than can be found in the writings of Addison, Steele, Defoe, Richardson, Goldsmith, Coleridge, DeQuincey, Carlyle, Thackeray, and a great many others...John Maynard Keynes, another master of clear and beautiful prose, wrote: 'How different things appear in Washington than in London.' "

    Thanks to whomever started this thread...it's helping me learn English.

  11. Kelly B

    Kelly B Senior Member

    USA English
    My pleasure! I appreciate all the contributions, and given the level of support for "different than" I shall try not to cringe when I hear/see it.... I'll probably continue to choose "from" for my own use, though.
  12. Nick

    Nick Senior Member

    Western USA
    USA, English
    It's not an exact replacement. You can't just take out "than" and insert "from".

    It's different than I thought it would be.
    It's different from what I thought it would be.
  13. CarolSueC Senior Member

    I am interested in learning whether the BE "different to" is used in other English-speaking countries and whether the AE "different than" is used beyond North America or not. Also is "different from" (preferred for both AE and BE*) heard often among BE speakers or not?
    *Cambridge History of English Language, V. VI, p. 334.
  14. shamblesuk

    shamblesuk Senior Member

    England, English
    Depends on the context but I would not expect to hear 'different than' apart from in a context such as:

    'I went to Italy and it was a lot different than I expected'

    Predominantly we use 'different to' rather than 'different from'. Again, depends on the context.
  15. Kelly B

    Kelly B Senior Member

    USA English
  16. CarolSueC Senior Member

    Thank you, Kelly, for the link. That is precisely the kind of information I sought. I would have expected the "different to" for UK to be higher, but my experience is primarily with British films and TV or novels that reflect spoken usage. I still am curious whether the "different to" is heard in Australia and New Zealand.
  17. teia_55 Member


    What are the situations we can use "different to" and "different from" in sentences?
    I would use "different from" . but I`ve heard [watching TV] sentences in which "different to" is also used. I`m sorry but I can`t remember the exact context.

    Thank you

  18. TrentinaNE Senior Member

    English (American)
    In AE, things differ from each other, and therefore are different from each other. In BE, it's common to hear that things are different to each other, but do people also say things differ to each other?

  19. foxfirebrand

    foxfirebrand Senior Member

    The Northern Rockies
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    I can't think of any instances in AE where we'd use "differ to," and the same applies to what you've already said about "different to."

    I know the Brits supposedly use it, but to me it always sounds like someone is translating their vocabulary into English but retaining their idiom. Like saying "depend of" instead of "depend on" (which admittedly makes less sense).
  20. Brian P

    Brian P Senior Member

    You will sometimes hear "different than". It was orignally AE but I have recently heard it used several times in the UK. In my opinion this is incorrect usage but I would appreciate the opinions of other anglophones.
  21. lsp

    lsp Senior Member

    US, English
    That's how the thread starts off...
  22. cyberpedant

    cyberpedant Senior Member

    North Adams, MA
    English USA, Northeast, NYC
    Different to, from, than. Which do you say?
    This flower is different to that one.
    This flower is different from that one.
    This flower is different than that one.
    Do you consider any of these incorrect?
    Which English do you speak, e.g. AE, BE, other.
  23. . 1 Banned

    Ferntree Gully
    Australian Australia
    This flower is different to that one.

    Other (Australian)

  24. susanb

    susanb Senior Member

    For me it is always different from the correct grammar, however I'm learning there are so many exceptions to the rule that ...
    I'm learning BE
  25. Sabelotodo Senior Member

    Great Lakes Region, USA
    English, United States
    I would say different from. I would consider different to and different than to be incorrect--in fact, if my students write those, I mark them incorrect and deduct points.

    I've noticed that these phrases come up in the forums periodically and there is never agreement.
  26. Different from gets my vote.

  27. panjandrum

    panjandrum PongoMod

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    This flower is not the same as that one.

    My point is not frivolous.
    There is no reason for me to use different in this particular context.
    And different from is really clunky in my ears.
  28. rsweet

    rsweet Senior Member

    English, North America
    If you are using a noun or a word/phrase/clause that functions as a noun, I was taught to use "different from."
    "Italy is different from what I expected." "Italy is different from Germany."

    If "different" is followed by a phrase or clause, I was taught to use "than."
    "Italy is different than I expected it to be.

    This "different to" thing has thrown me for a loop though. I'd never heard of it before.
  29. LouisaB Senior Member

    English, UK
    Hi, everybody,

    1. Our laws are very different from yours.
    2. Our laws are very different than yours.
    3. Our laws are very different to yours.

    Which would you use?

    I've always used the form 'different from', following the pattern 'digress from', 'divert from' etc etc. I'd also say 'I differ from you'.

    But since I've been on this forum, I've seen both the other constructions used frequently by people whose language skills I respect - and by BE speakers as well as AE. To me, 'than' is for specific comparisons, eg 'bigger than,' 'whiter than', and I cannot understand the use of 'to' at all.

    Am I completely wrong about this? I'd be grateful for your opinions.

  30. Sallyb36

    Sallyb36 Senior Member

    Liverpool UK
    British UK
    number 3 is correct.
  31. sweetpotatoboy Senior Member

    English, UK (London)
    Yes, I'm sure there must be lots of good threads on this. And there are certainly major differences between AE and BE in this respect.

    I would say that in BE "from" will almost always be correct and the most commonly used (though "to" is creeping in in certain contexts). In the example you give, I would certainly only use "from".
  32. LouisaB Senior Member

    English, UK
    Hi, Sally,

    That's interesting, because you're a BE speaker, like me. Is there a rule or an analogy to explain why you'd use 'to'? I just don't quite get it.

    Hi, sweetpotatoboy,

    I thought there'd be lots of threads on this too, but I searched before I posted (with the key words 'different from' and 'different than') and came up with zilch. If you've found one, I'd be grateful for a direction!

    I've noticed 'to' creeping in recently as well, but I don't know why.
  33. Sallyb36

    Sallyb36 Senior Member

    Liverpool UK
    British UK
    Louisa, I'm sorry, but I can't explain why!! :(
  34. cuchuflete

    cuchuflete Senior Member

    Maine, EEUU
    I would normally use 'from' for a comparison pointing out a distinction. I see a fair number of "than's", mostly from BE speakers, and as a result of this forum, and prolonged exposure, they are no longer so jarring. "To" sounds awkward to my AE ears.

    Could you actually say something like this?

    My recipe for Japanese quince jam is different to yours; I omit the sugar.
  35. Sallyb36

    Sallyb36 Senior Member

    Liverpool UK
    British UK
    Yes, that's exactly how I would say it.
  36. cuchuflete

    cuchuflete Senior Member

    Maine, EEUU
    Thanks Sally,

    I guess I'll have to keep that in mind when listening to, or reading things from your part of the world. Is this usage particular to your city, or is it widespread in the UK?
  37. Sallyb36

    Sallyb36 Senior Member

    Liverpool UK
    British UK
    It's widespread throughout the UK.
  38. LouisaB Senior Member

    English, UK
    Nothing to be embarrassed about - there are loads of things I say in my native tongue that I couldn't begin to explain! :) Maybe it's to do with what you're used to, and whether something simply 'sounds right'.

    I have to admit that although 'to' is surely the least logical of the three constructions, because 'to' brings you closer, where 'from' takes you further away, cuchuflete's example doesn't actually jar with me at all - whereas 'than' sets my teeth on edge. I have no idea why!

    On the other hand, I'd still agree with sweetpotatoboy that 'from' is more generally considered 'correct' in the UK.
  39. Sallyb36

    Sallyb36 Senior Member

    Liverpool UK
    British UK
    hhhmmmmm, maybe it's more regional to use to than I realised, I'll have to listen out for it!!
  40. LouisaB Senior Member

    English, UK
    Maybe it's just that 'from' is more correct, but 'to' is growing more common. It wouldn't be the first time an 'incorrect' usage started to dominate (and change) a language - and this one wouldn't bother me too much, since the meaning is still absolutely clear.

    Can I ask, though - would you say 'I differ from you in this respect' or 'I differ to you in this respect'?
  41. Sallyb36

    Sallyb36 Senior Member

    Liverpool UK
    British UK
    I would say I differ from always..
  42. panjandrum

    panjandrum PongoMod

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    The previous threads have been found and today's added to the compendium. I found it by looking for different in the WR dictionary. At the bottom of the definitions is a list of all the threads with different in their title.

    This provokes me to make two points:
    First, that very often the quickest way to find previous threads about a topic is to look up a key word in the dictionary.
    Second, to point out that this is why we are so keen that thread titles should be meaningful - they are automatically linked to the dictionary definitions.

    Now, what was the topic again?
  43. panjandrum

    panjandrum PongoMod

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Quoting old Fowler again:
    The OED says that from is usual; to is often used and frequent colloquially, but is by many considered incorrect; and it lists 15 notable writers who used than:)
  44. LouisaB Senior Member

    English, UK
    Oops. I am clearly one of Fowler's hasty and ill-defined generalisers...:eek:

    But I'm intrigued all the same. Does Fowler give any reason for his belief that it's wrong to extrapolate 'different from'? from 'differ from'? 'Different' does derive from the same source, doesn't it? Why would it act differently in this form? :confused:

    Burchfield explains the use of 'to' as deriving from 'dissimilar to', but this really does seem to me a false analogy, as it's not prefaced by 'di' (diverge, divert, digress) meaning 'split away', but 'dis' (dislike, discomfort, disallow) meaning 'un', a straight negative, and thus obeys the same construction as its root, ie 'similar'.

    It's not one I feel strongly about, and 'to' doesn't offend me in the least, perhaps because I hear it so often. But I'm intrigued, that's all. I'd like to know if there is (or even was) a correct form - because it would seem so very strange if there were not.
  45. panjandrum

    panjandrum PongoMod

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Now I'm back with New Fowler, in which Burchfield says much the same as Old Fowler:)
    He notes early examples of each: from - 1590, to - 1526, than - 1644.
    He suggests that in the 20th century from began to dominate BE, than has flourished in AE along with from.

    As for the logic?
    No logic is presented. But a suggestion that there is no logical reason why "... all words in the same morphological family should be construed with the same prepositions." We say:
    according to, accords with;
    full of, filled with;
    pride in, proud of.
    Why should different be different:D
  46. LV4-26

    LV4-26 Senior Member

    Until I'm told that different from has become totally incorrect, I'll stick to that one, as I have difficulties with the other two. :) Though I'm not entirely sure I haven't been using different than, here and there.
  47. LouisaB Senior Member

    English, UK
    That's a really good point. I think there are distinctions in those examples (eg there's a definitely different emphasis between 'full of' and 'filled with') but it's still a good moral, that one cannot automatically assume the same prepostion in all forms.

    Also, while I was writing that last paragraph, I nearly wrote 'there's a different emphasis in...' So how consistent am I?? :eek:

    However, I'd still personally push for 'different from', because (I think) it's following the usual linguistic form for 'ent', ie an effective participle, more usually expressed by 'ing'. It's used to mean simply 'differing' - and surely you would differ from? It's that old thing about 'to' bringing you nearer, and 'from' taking you further away that I mentioned before.

    Still, this is really interesting. I bet there are some really good arguments for the other forms too.
  48. ricardoii New Member

    Español - Colombia
    Hello everybody. I have a question. What phrase is correct between the following:

    -x is different to y, z and w.
    -x is different than y, z and w.

    Thanks a lot

    (Maybe this has been posted before, I just did not find it)
  49. Tresley

    Tresley Senior Member

    Yorkshire / United Kingdom
    British English
    I hope this helps.
  50. mjscott Senior Member

    I don't think I've heard different to--is it used in Math in the United Kingdom?

    I think I would say
    -x is different from y, z and w.

    Maybe I'm just not into my game tonight....
    (too many turkey leftovers....)

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