Different than vs. different from vs. different to

johndot

Senior Member
English - England
Have you read all of the previous posts, angel8848? Perhaps not—it’s a long thread! (It’s worth having a look at as many as you can.)

The question you ask has been touched upon before, but not resolved, and you will probably get many different answers.

As I see it, your sentence doesn’t contain a comparative: “quite different” is simply a statement of fact that “the competitions” were not the same; “quite different” does not say that one was bigger or better or faster or longer than another, and so the use of the comparator “than” would not be right.

Many people do use “different than” (even when there is no comparative). Many people, and I am one of them, disagree: I strongly recommend you use “different from”.
 
  • Phil-Olly

    Senior Member
    Scotland, English
    Since nobody's mentioned so far ...

    Distinct from ...
    Divergent from ...
    Distant from ... (Close to ...)
    Different from ... (Similar to ...)

    "Different to .." makes my brain hurt, as it would if someone said, "Distant to .." or "Close from ..."
     

    owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    link

    The phrases different from and different than are both common in British and American English. The British also use the construction different to.

    This is new information for me.

    As for the use of "from" vs. "than", it is one of those ongoing disputes that goes round and round and round and round. ;)

    Gaer
    My recent search in the BNC does not confirm this notion. Every example they showed in an independent search for "so very different__" contained "from" and not "than", which surprised me. I've used "than" unashamedly for years with this sort of meaning: I am different than he is. Or That is different than the other thing is. Therefore, I was surprised to find no support for this use in the material available in the BNC.
     

    Spira

    Banned
    UK English
    My recent search in the BNC does not confirm this notion. Every example they showed in an independent search for "so very different__" contained "from" and not "than", which surprised me. I've used "than" unashamedly for years with this sort of meaning: I am different than he is. Or That is different than the other thing is. Therefore, I was surprised to find no support for this use in the material available in the BNC.
    It's normal that you have unashamedly used "different than" for years, just like ever other American I know. "Different than" seems to be the norm west of Limerick.
    In the UK the correct form is "different from", but a large portion of the less-educated population says "different to", making a false parallel with its opposite "similar to".
    When I was a child in London it was one of those catchy sing-song pedagogical expressions that my mother used to say: "Similar to but different from", along with "i before e, except after c", and a hundred others.(which explains why I have trouble writing WEIRD !!).
     

    Victoria32

    Senior Member
    English (UK) New Zealand
    My recent search in the BNC does not confirm this notion. Every example they showed in an independent search for "so very different__" contained "from" and not "than", which surprised me. I've used "than" unashamedly for years with this sort of meaning: I am different than he is. Or That is different than the other thing is. Therefore, I was surprised to find no support for this use in the material available in the BNC.
    I am interested to see this thread revived! In NZ, different than is really taking over, thanks to film and TV, as we become more culturally American, but it still makes me cringe...
    Vicky
     

    owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    I am interested to see this thread revived! In NZ, different than is really taking over, thanks to film and TV, as we become more culturally American, but it still makes me cringe...
    Vicky
    I can certainly understand your cringing at the thought of New Zealand being overrun by crap generated here in the US. I also encourage you to maintain the good fight over there.:) I see no reason for other people to pick up the ridiculous expressions of teenage Americans. After all, you've got your own perfectly imaginative and sullen teenagers: let them come up with their own terms for anything that bugs them or makes them laugh. My own language has been greatly enriched by the odd terms I pick up from native English speakers in other parts of the world. I regard my exposure to the new material as a beneficial thing, and one I genuinely enjoy in this forum. :)
     

    Cagey

    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    "Different from" is still far more popular in American English than "different than". Using Owlman's useful formulation in a search of COCA* I got:
    so very different from: 34
    so very different than: 2
    so very different to: 0, for this construction.
    [There was 1 for the unrelated construction: Cappadocia wasn't so very different to farm or graze.]
    *CORPUS OF CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN ENGLISH.

    Added: These results are consistent with those cited at various times earlier in the thread, and with the statistics of the alt-usage-english.org article, article on different to/ than, also cited earlier in the thread:
    "Different from" is the construction that no one will object to.
    "Different to" is fairly common informally in the U.K., but rare in the U.S. "Different than" is sometimes used to avoid the cumbersome "different from that which", etc. (e.g., "a very different Pamela than I used to leave all company and pleasure for" -- Samuel Richardson). Some U.S. speakers use "different than" exclusively.​
    Their statistics differentiate between UK and US and between spoken and written language. The statistics are quoted in post #92.
     
    Last edited:

    Victoria32

    Senior Member
    English (UK) New Zealand
    I can certainly understand your cringing at the thought of New Zealand being overrun by crap generated here in the US. I also encourage you to maintain the good fight over there.:) I see no reason for other people to pick up the ridiculous expressions of teenage Americans. After all, you've got your own perfectly imaginative and sullen teenagers: let them come up with their own terms for anything that bugs them or makes them laugh. My own language has been greatly enriched by the odd terms I pick up from native English speakers in other parts of the world. I regard my exposure to the new material as a beneficial thing, and one I genuinely enjoy in this forum. :)
    Yeah, it's sad to hear NZ teenagers talking as if they're character on the OJ (or is it O.C?) :D
    Even sadder is that they don't even know the NZ terms their older sisters would have used 10 years previously... THanks for the encouragement!
    Vicky
     

    Spira

    Banned
    UK English
    (Cagey):"Different to" is fairly common informally in the U.K..........

    It's really not a case of "informal" in the UK. I know plenty of Brits who transform "shit" into "sugar" or "cops" into "policemen" in front of authority or their grandmother, but the only people I know who say "different to" always say it because they think that's the way it is (the same Brits who say "them things" and "off of").
     

    Cagey

    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    That was a quotation from an article based on the set of statistics I linked to. The statistics may not be accurate for any number of reasons; they may be outdated, for one thing, or the body of language from which they are taken may be biased in some way. I am in no position to evaluate them. However, you might take a look at them yourself. See post 92, or see them in their original context here: alt-usage-english.org article.
     
    Last edited:

    owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    That was a quotation from an article based on the set of statistics I linked to. The statistics may not be accurate for any number of reason; they may be outdated, for one thing, or the body of language from which they are taken may be biased in some way. I am in no position to evaluate them. However, you might take a look at them yourself. See post 92, or see them in their original context here: alt-usage-english.org article.
    This material was interesting, Cagey. I'm glad you took the time to find it. Thank you.:)
     
    Sorry to interrupt you.

    As for me, an ESL learner, each statement sounds like:

    different from makes known your observation and induce something that you are going to say next

    different to reflects your idea on what something is supposed to be like

    differendt than shows your judgment
     

    Arrius

    Senior Member
    English, UK
    No, colliein blue, whatever they sound like to you, they all mean the same, but their use or acceptability varies regionally.
     

    easychen

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    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.
    Yes, I totally agree with what you've said.
    And here's another example:
    -Face-to-face communication is a different beast from what you are doing.
    -Face-to-face communication is a different beast than you are doing.

    But this one is not so good:
    -Face-to-face communication is a different beast than what you are doing.

    Am I correct?
     

    Arrius

    Senior Member
    English, UK
    In spoken BE I have noticed since joining this thread, that on the BBC one occasionally hears a British speaker use different than, but different from (which I personally continue to use) has almost entirely been ousted by different to, which, as I said earlier, I first came across several decades ago when I left London to live in Yorkshire.
     

    Cameljockey

    Senior Member
    British English
    My take (referring to easychen's post):

    It is fine to use 'than' here because you are using it as a conjunction between two separate parts of the phrase.

    The alternative is: 'face-to-face communication is different from what you are doing now', as then you are using the word 'different' to compare/contrast two things in a concise sentence (for interest's sake, you can note that to use contrast, it would be 'in contrast to' :)).

    Also, in the UK you can use 'different to' when comparing/contrasting: 'face-to-face communication is different to what you are doing now'.
     
    Last edited:

    Spira

    Banned
    UK English
    In spoken BE I have noticed since joining this thread, that on the BBC one occasionally hears a British speaker use different than, but different from (which I personally continue to use) has almost entirely been ousted by different to, which, as I said earlier, I first came across several decades ago when I left London to live in Yorkshire.
    Arrius' point appears to be that different to has ousted different from over time.
    I don't think that is true, unless poor grammar has ousted correct grammar over time (which, of course, may be true :()
    And when I lived in London four decades ago different to was very prevalent, especially in east London ! It went hand in fist with the formula "them things", or rather "them fings".
     

    mplsray

    Senior Member
    Arrius' point appears to be that different to has ousted different from over time.
    I don't think that is true, unless poor grammar has ousted correct grammar over time (which, of course, may be true :()
    And when I lived in London four decades ago different to was very prevalent, especially in east London ! It went hand in fist with the formula "them things", or rather "them fings".
    Two sources which identify different to as standard in British English:

    Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage by Merriam-Webster, Inc.:

    From the article "different from, than, to":

    "different to is standard in British usage but rare in American usage."

    The Columbia Guide to Standard American English by Kenneth G. Wilson.

    From the article "different from, different than, different to":

    "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)...."

    The focus of Wilson's book is on American usage, but I am sufficiently acquainted with his book, and with the differences between British and American English, to trust his statements about British English.
     

    Spira

    Banned
    UK English
    Different to is definitely prevalent in the UK. No doubt about that.
    What exactly "standard English" means I'm not sure: frequently said? Or considered grammatically correct? Not slang?
    Whatever the definition, we were taught (in London in the 60s and 70s) that a frequent mistake made is "different to", and that to avoid making the mistake the little reminder "similar to but different from" should be used.
    This was clearly taught both at school and in my home.
    So I have to side with the conclusion: different to is commonly used but grammatically wrong (in England)
     

    mplsray

    Senior Member
    Different to is definitely prevalent in the UK. No doubt about that.
    What exactly "standard English" means I'm not sure: frequently said? Or considered grammatically correct? Not slang?
    Whatever the definition, we were taught (in London in the 60s and 70s) that a frequent mistake made is "different to", and that to avoid making the mistake the little reminder "similar to but different from" should be used.
    This was clearly taught both at school and in my home.
    So I have to side with the conclusion: different to is commonly used but grammatically wrong (in England)
    There are various definitions, but the one I have in mind (and that used by the two sources I cited) is that which, adopted from linguistics, is used by the editors of most English-language dictionaries today when discussing usage questions, in which standard refers to the speech and writing of educated people and includes both formal and informal speech and writing.

    (Note that dictionaries may well give additional definitions of "Standard English" under their entry for that term, but I am referring to the concept the editors themselves use when writing labels or making comments concerning usage.)
     

    Arrius

    Senior Member
    English, UK
    when I lived in London four decades ago different to was very prevalent Spira

    Although even my own dialect as a boy was greatly influenced by Cockney, I was so used to hearing different from in London that the different to of Yorkshire struck me immediately. But that was in 1955, according to your profile, two years before you were born! I have mentioned in an earlier post the southward migration of different to that occurred later. Different than is a much later intruder.
     

    gaer

    Senior Member
    US-English
    I remember "different than" being very common in the US, and that experience goes back decades. In addition, I heard Rachel Maddow use it recently, and I am fairly sure I have heard at least two other people use it, people I believe speak well. Most likely they would use "different from" in writing.

    On the other hand, "different to" totally shocked me the first time I heard it. Reason? Until the "Age of the Internet" I did not have the opportunity to swap emails with people in the UK, Australia (and so on), so I was simply not aware of it.

    I did not know that "different than" is frowned upon until I joined this forum. ;)
     

    Spira

    Banned
    UK English
    when I lived in London four decades ago different to was very prevalent Spira

    Although even my own dialect as a boy was greatly influenced by Cockney, I was so used to hearing different from in London that the different to of Yorkshire struck me immediately. But that was in 1955, according to your profile, two years before you were born! I have mentioned in an earlier post the southward migration of different to that occurred later. Different than is a much later intruder.
    You are right. Your experience pre-dates mine.
    Bizarrely, I married a west-Yorkshire girl in 1980 and never heard "different to" up there ever!!
     

    owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    After searching for "different from" and "different than" in TMC, I found many more entries for "from" (1,550) than I did for "than" (65). COCA had 12,429 entries for "from" and 3,453 for "than". These numbers certainly don't support any big preference for "than" in the U.S.

    Looking at how "than" was being used, I found some sentences that I definitely believe are better with "than". "From" wouldn't work in these, for instance:

    (COCA) I looked a little different than I thought I would and my voice didn't sound the way I thought...

    I told Justice Black in language that was sharp, but no different than I would use again, that...

    I don't feel any
    different than I ever did, although I'm not so strong now. "

    Although I did find some support for "than" being used as a preposition, many times "than" was being used as a conjunction, as it is in the sentences cited. This certainly reflects my own use. I never say "I'm different than him", but "I'm different than he is." I prefer the preposition "from" when I use "different" with a preposition: I'm different from them.
     
    Last edited:

    gaer

    Senior Member
    US-English
    After searching for "different from" and "different than" in TMC, I found many more entries for "from" (1,550) than I did for "than" (65). COCA had 12,429 entries for "from" and 3,453 for "than". These numbers certainly don't support any big preference for "than" in the U.S.
    Any results are going to be skewed towards educated writers. We won't find out what the average person says this way. Some people don't care, but it is of interest to me. We will find out, in general, what people who are more sophisticated about language write, which is a strong indication of what they have been TOLD to write.

    Furthermore, by listening carefully to people who are known to write well, we might discover whether or not they stick to the same rules when speaking, or if they speak slightly differently.
     

    owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    Just looking at raw numbers for the two phrases on Google, I found 19,200,000 for "different than". "Different from" shows 86,300,000. I'm not particularly impressed with Google's numbers when I'm trying to solve a grammar problem. I do think that Google's numbers are less likely to be skewed toward the use of professional writers than are the numbers from COCA, etc.

    I thought the important thing from the sentences in COCA was that many writers use "than" when they're using it as a conjunction: I am different than he is. In sentences like this one, "from" doesn't work: I am different from he is??? I felt different than I did an hour earlier.

    "Than" as a preposition isn't as frequent in the corpora although many are using that way according to the sentences I found on Google.
     
    Last edited:

    timpeac

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    I find it amazing this question causes such consternation. After all, does it really matter in any way which preposition someone uses? I don't mean that (completely) facetiously. If there was any chance of a misunderstanding then that would be some grounds for wanting a clear decision. However, here I can't see that there is any risk of confusion with another meaning. There is no intrinsic reason why "different" should be followed by "from". In any case, it's clear from this thread that "to" and "than" can be used by many native speakers with their native speaker friends without anyone thinking there is anything wrong. If you're a foreign speaker then just bear in mind that if you don't use "from" then you risk censure if what you say/write is being marked by a teacher.
     
    Last edited:

    leo9lives

    New Member
    English-American
    The following is from Words into type, Third Edition, © 1974 (page 371):

    The adjective different is usually followed by from, and some authorities consider any other phrasing improper. But different to and different than are common usage in England and have long literary usage to support them. Different than is being increasingly used in the United States when the object is a clause, probably because the construction required by from is often wordy.

    Conditions are now very different from what they were when the Constitution was drawn up and adopted.

    Cotton and linen are known as vegetable fibers and have different reactions than the animal fibers known as silk and wool (have).
     

    gaer

    Senior Member
    US-English
    I agree with your post completely, especially this part.
    First of all, note the date of the first post:

    26th June 2005, 10:05 AM

    As for the rest, getting prescriptivists and descriptivists to agree on grammar is no more easy than getting conservatives and liberals to agree on the role of government. :)

    I find it amazing this question causes such consternation. After all, does it really matter in any way which preposition someone uses? I don't mean that (completely) facetiously. If there was any chance of a misunderstanding then that would be some grounds for wanting a clear decision. However, here I can't see that there is any risk of confusion with another meaning. There is no intrinsic reason why "different" should be followed by "from". In any case, it's clear from this thread that "to" and "than" can be used by many native speakers with their native speaker friends without anyone thinking there is anything wrong. If you're a foreign speaker then just bear in mind that if you don't use "from" then you risk censure if what you say/write is being marked by a teacher.
    That is precisely what I would say, Tim. "A is different from B" is safe. No bad grades on grammar tests. ;)
     

    Spira

    Banned
    UK English
    Quote from Owlman. "I'm different than he is."
    Whether you use from, than or to after "different", I would definitely say that this construction quoted barely qualifies as English.

    No that is a bit harsh, but it certainly is an awkward construction.
     
    Last edited:

    owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    Quote from Owlman. "I'm different than he is."
    Whether you use from, than or to after "different", I would definitely say that this construction quoted barely qualifies as English.
    That's interesting, Spira. So you don't recognize "than" as a conjunction as well as a preposition?

    My position on "than" is radically different than yours is. :) I have seen others who recognize the use as a conjunction. M-W certainly does: <vastly different in size than it was twenty-five years ago -- N.M.Pusey> Try replacing "than" with "from" in that sentence. It doesn't work.

    Here's a pretty good argument for this use at Dr. Charles Darling's extensive website on English grammar: http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/adjectives.htm#taller

    It falls under the topic "taller than he" or "taller than him". Despite your misgivings, I'm comfortable with the usefulness of "than" as a conjunction. Once again, in sentences like "I feel different than I did last night", "from" would sound ridiculous: I feel different from I did last night???
     
    Last edited:

    Spira

    Banned
    UK English
    That's interesting, Spira. So you don't recognize "than" as a conjunction as well as a preposition?

    My position on "than" is radically different than yours is. :) I have seen others who recognize the use as a conjunction. M-W certainly does: <vastly different in size than it was twenty-five years ago -- N.M.Pusey> Try replacing "than" with "from" in that sentence. It doesn't work.

    Once again, in sentences like "I feel different than I did last night", "from" would sound ridiculous: I feel different from I did last night???
    I and those around me say:
    vastly different in size from how it was twenty-five years ago or
    vastly different in size from twenty-five years ago
    I feel different from how I did last night or
    I feel different from last night
    I'm different from him

    There are two different issues here. In BE the discussion is the grammatical correctness of from/at, while than is really more of a regional (US) development.
    Thereafter I feel the than leads you into all sorts of awkwardness.
     
    Last edited:

    owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    I've never been aware of any awkwardness resulting from my using "than" as a conjunction. To me, it's as simple as this: I use "than" with "different" the same way I would use it with a comparative adjective: I sing louder than she does.
    I feel different than she does.

    I certainly don't see any need to say: I sing louder from how she does.
    Nor is it necessary to say: I feel different from how I felt last night.

    Of course, I'm not saying that there is anything wrong with expressing the idea that way. On the contrary, it sounds perfectly natural to me. But so does: That song sounds different than it did last night.
     

    Arrius

    Senior Member
    English, UK
    You are right. Your experience pre-dates mine.
    Bizarrely, I married a west-Yorkshire girl in 1980 and never heard "different to" up there ever!!
    Ah, West Yorkshire. My information is based on what I am quite sure I heard in Kingston-upon-Hull. I had very little contact with the folk in other parts of the county, and so should perhaps not have generalized.
    The Wikipedia says that the Hull dialect is distinct and akin to that of Lincolnshire.
     

    Victoria32

    Senior Member
    English (UK) New Zealand
    I've never been aware of any awkwardness resulting from my using "than" as a conjunction. To me, it's as simple as this: I use "than" with "different" the same way I would use it with a comparative adjective: I sing louder than she does.
    I feel different than she does.

    I certainly don't see any need to say: I sing louder from how she does.
    Nor is it necessary to say: I feel different from how I felt last night.

    Of course, I'm not saying that there is anything wrong with expressing the idea that way. On the contrary, it sounds perfectly natural to me. But so does: That song sounds different than it did last night.
    You need to re-cast the sentence to avoid 'different than', and it's not difficult!
    "I feel different from the way I felt last night."
    Sorry, than as a conjunction just doesn't work, any more than 'like' as a conjunction works.
    Vicky

     

    owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    You need to re-cast the sentence to avoid 'different than', and it's not difficult!
    "I feel different from the way I felt last night."
    Sorry, than as a conjunction just doesn't work, any more than 'like' as a conjunction works.
    Vicky

    I'm not sorry, Vicky. I'm content with "than" as a conjunction and see no problem with it used that way: I sing louder than she does. As I've found a great deal of support for this use in reputable writing, I suppose I'll keep using it without the approval of some of my fellow forum members.

    As much as some people might not want to admit its validity, "than" as a conjunction is supported by The Compact Oxford English Dictionary : [as conjunction] :they observe rather than act

    I found that definition here: http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/than?view=uk

    Here's agreement from the American Heritage Dictionary: CONJUNCTION:

    1. Used after a comparative adjective or adverb to introduce the second element or clause of an unequal comparison: She is a better athlete than I.
    2. Used to introduce the second element after certain words indicating difference: He draws quite differently than she does.
    I found that definition here: http://education.yahoo.com/reference/dictionary/entry/than

    And here's one from the Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary:

    than preposition conjunction

    used to join two parts of a comparisonMy son is a lot taller than my daughter.
    You always walk faster than I do!
    You're earlier than usual.

    Which I found here: http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/british/than




     
    Last edited:

    mplsray

    Senior Member
    On a historical note, Merriam-Wester's Dictionary of English Usage says that the first time it was argued that than had to be a conjunction was in 1762 by Robert Lowth, while the first argument that it could be a preposition was by Joseph Priestly in 1769. Priestly was a scientist, and his grammar is considered to be the first descriptive grammar of English. He "suspected that others' preference for the nominative was based not on English, but on a dubious analogy with Latin."

    The first use of than as a preposition which is cited by the Oxford English Dictionary is in the Geneva Bible, 1560: "Prov. xxvii. 3 A fooles wrath is heauier then them bothe." Note that the OED's entry needs to be updated, as the above comes from the entry "than, conj." and the use of the accusative case is described as being "as if than were a preposition." The quote by owlman5 from a current Oxford dictionary represents what a future OED revision is likely to show.
     

    Arrius

    Senior Member
    English, UK
    P.S. A couple of days ago I heard a well-spoken British expert on some -ology or other say on the BBC, "A. differs to B.". I forget the context, but am quite sure about the preposition used - the epidemic is evidently spreading!
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    I tried this: I substituted "differs" for "different", and the distinction seems relevant to me.

    The 2011 Volvo differs from the 2010 in many ways...:tick:

    The 2011 Volvo differs than the 2010 in many ways...:p

    The above given to bolster my position the "different" requires "from", and not "than".
     

    Cagey

    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    Differs to has to be wrong, sorry! It makes no sense, and just sounds completely wrong. Differs from surely?
    Vicky
    Differs to doesn't have to be wrong.

    I am a speaker of American English, so it jangles my ear, but for the differing view of speakers of British see post 121 and following.
     
    < Previous | Next >
    Top