Different from, different than, different to

I thought these things were different than they used to be. – James Thurber

If you see nothing immediately wrong with the phrases different from, different to, and different than, you might be surprised by all the ink spilt, keys poked and eyebrows furrowed over their respective permissibilities. Not only is different than often mistakenly called a mistake, it has been described as flagrant, eyebrow-raising, revolting, abominable, and ridiculous. More on that later. First, an introduction to the use and distribution of the expressions.

Different from is by far the most widely used and accepted form, different to is common in British English, and different than is spoken regularly in different varieties of English, including US English and BrE. All have their uses. The predominance of different from, particularly in written English, is shown by these figures from the Collins Cobuild Bank of English, which I found at alt.usage.english:

and in the following ngrams of instances in BrE and AmE texts:

Searches in American and British corpora show some of the many ways these expressions are used. The voluminous Merriam-Webster Dictionary of English Usage (MWDEU) offers a historical survey of both usage and commentary, and concludes that all three “have been in standard usage since the 16th and 17th centuries and all three continue to be in standard use”. The Columbia Guide to Standard American English (CGSAE) concurs: all “are Standard and have long been so”.

The critics, however, have not been dissuaded. The Shorter OED tells us:

Different to and different than are often regarded as incorrect, though used by many well-known writers since [the 17th century]; different than is now almost exclusively used in North American English, where different to is rare.

The American Heritage Dictionary elaborates:

Since the 18th century, language critics have singled out different than as incorrect, though it is well attested in the works of reputable writers. . . . Different than is more acceptably used, particularly in American usage, where the object of comparison is expressed by a full clause: The campus is different than it was 20 years ago. Different from may be used with a clause if the clause starts with a conjunction and so functions as a noun: The campus is different from how it was 20 years ago.

Merriam-Webster’s Pocket Guide to English Usage supports the point about how each form has its particular virtues:

Different from, the more common, works best when followed by a noun or a pronoun. [the new proposal is very different from the old one] [her view is so different from his]. Different than works best when a clause follows [expecting a different result than to be left penniless] [she looks little different now than we remember her from our school days].

And yet. Browsing the internet for opinion on the matter, we meet a mass of peremptory protest, which I must now counter-protest. Different than is not grammatically incorrect, nor can it be dismissed as a common grammar error or an eyebrow-raising gaffe, let alone one of the 10 dumbest grammar mistakes. It is neither a nasty and glaring error nor a flagrant grammar mistake that makes you look stupid or dumb. You may call different than abominable, but this is a matter of taste. You may call it ignorant, but you would be wrong, and unaware of the unfortunate irony.

These judgements, whether rude or neutral, newly acquired or long indulged, are pet peeves. They have nothing to do with grammatical correctness. Any suggestion that different than/to is grammatically incorrect, end of story, would have dissolved in a few minutes’ research or by consulting a single reliable authority.

Prescriptive commentators agree. Garner’s Dictionary of Modern American Usage finds it “indisputable that different than is sometimes idiomatic, and even useful”. Fowler saw nothing wrong with different to: “That d. can only be followed by from & not by to is a superstition.” Ernest Gowers, in The Complete Plain Words, says there is “good authority for different to . . . Different than is not unknown even in The Times”. Good heavens! And here is Eric Partridge, a fussier observer than most:

different to . . . is permissible (see, for evidence, The O.E.D.) . . . Different . . . than seems to occur more and more frequently in the New York daily and weekly press. Evidently the comparative sense of the word rather than the fact of its positive form may govern the syntax. Whether this is regrettable is a question of taste. (Usage and Abusage)

Lexicographer Robert Burchfield summarises:

The commonly expressed view that different should only be followed by from and never by to or than is not supportable in the face of past and present evidence or of logic, though the distribution of the constructions is not straightforward. (The New Fowler’s Modern English Usage; emphasis mine)

Maybe this lack of straightforwardness leads to a strong preference that hardens into a rule (the “one right way” fallacy). Maybe unfamiliarity fuels the presumption of wrongness. Whatever the causes, a weird cult of correctness has built up around different from that excludes alternatives. It is, as Lynne Murphy puts it, “the only variant that is universally considered to be ‘correct’ by the people who make declarations about such things”. Presumably for this reason, CGSAE recommends sticking with different from “for Formal and Oratorical levels”.

There is no sensible, evidential foundation for the belief that only from is correct and that than and to are incorrect. In Style: Toward Clarity and Grace, Joseph M. Williams shows how capricious and irrational this is. He describes it as one of a set of rules that “Pop Grammarians endlessly rehearse as evidence that English is close to being a terminal case.” (For more on the perennial doom-mongering over language, see this post.) These rules, writes Williams,

have become the symbolic flags around which those most intensely concerned with linguistic purity (whatever that may be) have tacitly agreed to rally. None of these “errors” interferes with clarity and concision; indeed, some of them let us save a word or two.

* * *

In many cases, as we have seen, the objection to different than is simply that: an objection, along the lines of a Monty Python contradiction or a Judge Dredd yell. Maybe the critic read a daft list of alleged grammar mistakes and added different than/to to their own nest of peeves. It’s understandable that some people prefer not to risk a mistake that would make them look “dumb” in the eyes of another, whoever it might be and however dubious their authority.

Other times, though, people borrow or construct arguments against different than/to. These include analogical arguments (“You can’t say different than because you can’t say differs than”: this paraphrases Strunk and White) and pseudo-logical arguments (“Than can only follow comparative adjectives or adverbs like whiter or faster”; “You can’t say different to because to means moving together”). An extreme example of this misapplication of logic is to be found in the frothy fulminations of the Queen’s English Society:

At a conservative estimate, it can be said that some 90% of the English mother-tongue people who use this word [different] use it wrongly. Even if that were to rise to 100%, their use would still be wrong because there are some very basic and logical reasons why that is so.

Most British people say “different to” and most Americans say “different than” and they are all wrong because the ONLY correct form is “different FROM”. We shall now explain why “from” is the only correct preposition to be used with “different” and why “to” is wrong and “than” is ridiculous.

Here, I removed the emphasis because the capitals are shouty enough. Note the tight and defensive circular reasoning, the determination to find fault, and the gargantuan stubbornness. If you can bear the QES’s debasement of reason, plough on, then visit Motivated Grammar for Gabe Doyle’s sound quashing of the spurious objections to following different with than or to.

If you need further reassurance, it helps to see who else has used so reviled a phrase. Different to appears in E. M. Forster’s A Room With A ViewMWDEU quotes Thurber, as above, using different than, alongside Thackeray and Joseph Heller among others. Michael Quinion informs us that the OED finds different than in Defoe, Coleridge, De Quincey, Goldsmith, Carlyle et al. Yes: than is more colloquial. But there’s nothing inherently wrong with it.

* * *

Newspaper style guides tend to be more restrictive, understandably sacrificing complexity for the sake of a snappy rule. The UK Times specifies “different from, and never different to or than”. The Economist says the same. The Guardian Book of English Language (2007) allows different from and to, but not than; the corresponding online guide elaborates that “different to is widely accepted nowadays [...]; different than is wrong, at least in British English”. Should someone tell Thackeray and Defoe? And Guardian writers?

The AP Stylebook says different takes “from, not than”. National Geographic prefers different from “in virtually every construction” except when from “would require an elaborate construction”. Simon Heffer, who writes the Telegraph style guide (“different from”) declares that “Something is different from something else, not different to it and certainly not, as in one especially revolting usage, different than anything.” When one reacts so viscerally to variant prepositions, the risk of disgust is high indeed.

The more balanced Chicago Manual of Style (16th ed., 5.220) says different from is “generally preferable” to different than, but adds that the adverbial phrase differently than is sometimes “all but required {she described the scene differently than he did}”. The issue popped up in their Q&A as well, where they defend different than as “not incorrect, and in fact [...] sometimes the more elegant choice when followed by a clause”.

[Edit: Tom Freeman shared the following ngrams comparing usage of differently than, differently to, and differently from in AmE and BrE.]

* * *

In a situation like this, where a question of usage appears contentious, you have options. You can take the word of self-appointed “experts” who seem to think grammar is the sum of spelling, style, statutes and censure, who find fault with vast chunks of the world’s English-speaking population, who rarely if ever offer reputable references to support their dogma, and who rest their case on personal preference and a stern or mocking tone (and sometimes, as a treat, an eccentric application of logic).

Or you can look up the contentious question in a good usage dictionary – or in several, the better to compare them and reach an informed conclusion. Calling different than or different to “wrong” is misguided. It’s an old grammar myth that has trickled down to the present day. Why perpetuate a stigmatizing non-rule? Let people speak whatever way comes naturally to them, so long as they make themselves clear, and consistent with context.  Dialectal differences should be savoured, not savaged.

Update:

Mark Liberman at Language Log received a query about the phrase differ to, and presents some data and analysis of prepositions used with the verb differ, quoting from this post by way of introduction.

100 Responses to Different from, different than, different to

  1. Dave McLane says:

    Wonderful! What I’ve been saying — in much fewer words — for years as I did my best to help people in Japan use English as a means of communication, not (absolute) correctness.

    However, I believe there’s a more complicated option left out. In order to pass the course, abide by whatever the Professor of English says is correct. In order to hold down the job when you work for a publication which has their own style sheet, follow that. For your own writing where you are the authority, create and use your own style sheet.

  2. In ‘The Cambridge Guide to English Usage’ Pam Peters very sensibly suggests that the choice depends as much on context as on the nationality of the writer and invites readers to consider whether they would insert ‘from’, ‘to’ or ‘than’ in each of the following sentences:

    1a. Bob’s approach was different . . . Jo’s.
    1b. Bob’s had a different approach. . . Jo.

    2a. Bob’s approach was different . . . what we expected.
    2b. Bob had a different approach . . . what we expected.

    3a. Bob’s approach was different . . . we expected.
    3b. Bob had a different approach . . . we expected.

    Corpus data, Peters reports, shows that British writers are likely to choose ‘different from’ over ‘different to’ by a ratio of about 6:1 in sentences like 1a, while American writers seem to choose ‘different from’ over ‘different than’ by a ratio of about 4:1. However, ‘different than’ in sentences like 3a and 3b is standard in American English, according to ‘Webster’s English Usage’ and widely accepted in British English, according to ’A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language’ by Quirk, Greenbaum, Leech and Svartvik. Those who are averse to such usage must recast their sentences on the lines of 2a and 2b.

    Peters’s bottom line is ‘Different from has no exclusive claim on expressions of comparison. Writers and speakers everywhere use different than as well, depending somewhat on grammatical context.

  3. Tom Guadagno says:

    Kudos Stan! This was quite a scholarly, enlightening and comprehensive discourse. I learned a lot from it. I definitely indentify with the last two paragraphs and I shall expressly heed them well.

  4. MichiganCityDDS says:

    Yet another reason to throw out the AP manual. Thank you!

  5. Stan says:

    Dave: Thank you. I agree that there are situations where we might have good reason to adjust our language, such as to conform to a house rule or satisfy some other official requirement. This I implied, perhaps too obscurely, in “consistent with context”. Regarding absolute correctness, John Lyons made the point succinctly in Language and Linguistics: “There are no absolute standards of correctness in language.” To your last line, I say “Hear hear.” Language serves us; we do not serve the language.

    Barrie: That’s very true, and it’s a point I neglected. I think I use all three expressions, depending on what seems appropriate at the time. It would be interesting to know how, why, and how often I use each one. Something I’ll try to pay more attention to! Peters’s exercise and observations are instructive — thanks for sharing them here.

    Tom: Thank you for reading, and for the generous words. (I think I might be allergic to pointless rules.)

    MichiganCityDDS: Oh, I wouldn’t do that. But it’s not a publication I’d rely on unless I had to, and I don’t have to.

  6. Great post, Stan. I think “different than” has a certain logic to it. Say there were four animals in a cage–three cats and a zebra. If I were to say “That Zebra is different than the rest of the animals,” I’m using “different” as a shorthand for a SET of comparative words that would be too cumbersome (and obvious) to list. What I really mean is “That Zebra is {larger, heavier, and more stripe- and hoof-endowed} than the rest of the animals.” “Different than” follows the logic of comparative sentences, even if it isn’t a “-er” word.

  7. Dave McLane says:

    Stan: Yes, “consistent with context” just slipped by my mind.

    MichiganCityDDS: Throwing out the AP manual when writing for AP is counterproductive. Same for any manual that’s being used by those you are writing for.

  8. Stan says:

    Ben: At the foot of p. 342 in MWDEU, first column, there is a brief and germane discussion of different‘s similarity to comparatives:

    Jespersen [...] observes that different is often felt to be a kind of comparative. He mentions as confirming evidence not only the construction with than but also the tendency for different to be modified by such adverbs as much, not much, no, and any, which are frequently used with comparatives. He gives as his earliest instance the “much different” of Shakespeare’s cited above.

    Other examples follow. When people talk about logic in grammar, they tend to either appreciate (as you do) that it is a different sort of logic from/than/to formal logic, or they try to impose the latter on the former. I find the second approach illogical.

  9. wisewebwoman says:

    I liked that I used the three variants in Barry England’s example.
    Something I had never given thought to before.
    I waved as I flew over on Friday.
    XO
    WWW

  10. Val Erde says:

    I usually use ‘different from’ but these days my grammar is so shite that I’ve almost given up caring. So here’s what I’d say to you:
    Different schmiffrent!
    ;)

  11. Stan says:

    WWW: You are clearly very accommodating with your prepositions. Since writing the post, I’ve asked a few people to fill in the blank in sample sentences, and I’ve received a fine variety of from, than, and to. Thanks for waving! I waved back, and wished you a safe flight.

    Val: That’s a far healthier attitude than clinging to one usage as the only permissible option, and dismissing alternatives as revolting or abominable.

  12. Joy says:

    Hi Stan, I’m delighted to see your post! I’ve been mulling this issue over for years.

    I grew up in New York City (born in 1956) and was taught by my English-major mother that one must ALWAYS say “different from,” and NEVER say “different than.” I think the fact that she had to drum this into my head as a child says it all – along with the fact that she never would have thought of eliminating “different to” from my speech, since until we had a neighbor from England, none of us had ever heard that usage.

    Perhaps when she was young everyone in the US really did say “different from.” In my experience, though, I’m the ONLY one who does! I do a good bit of writing and editing in the course of my work, and always have to resist the temptation to change everyone else’s “different thans” to “different froms.” I have never read a paper by a North American whose author used “from” in place of “than.”

    I have always assumed that conventional North American usage has changed since my mother learned English, and I was the only dinosaur who didn’t go along with those changes, because the speech patterns of the 1920s and 30s were so strongly drilled into me. I really wonder about those statistics you cite on US usage, they certainly don’t accord with my experience. I wonder how age, place of upbringing, and perhaps educational level of one’s parents relate to the distribution of froms and thans in US speech.

  13. Stan says:

    Hi, Joy! Thank you for your thoughtful and interesting comment. I’m not surprised by what you were taught, since prescriptive grammars have traditionally been so popular in teaching circles. In many educational contexts it makes practical sense to have a straightforward rule rather than a table of possible forms, each of which has its own complex distribution and levels of acceptability. It’s just a shame that this can encourage the rejection of valid alternatives.

    If you (or any curious reader) wished to investigate further, you could dig around in COHA, the Corpus of Historical American English. If I find time to do so, or if I come across any other relevant information, I’ll update this post.

  14. The Happy Quibbler says:

    Stan, I’m exhausted. You have dragged me kicking and screaming from my comfy, iron-clad view of the innate superiority of “different from” (and of the correct, clever speakers that wisely utter it) over “different than” (and the great unwashed, the unfortunate fools that inflict it on us and don’t even have the sense to be properly embarrassed). “Different TO”?!? Never heard it – it sounds ridiculous. And you say I have to permit BOTH of these atrocities – “than” and “to”?! Is nothing sacred? I’m pretty sure my brain is going to explode any second. I never should have gotten out of bed this morning. I want to smash this computer with a sledge hammer.

    >sigh<

    Fine. FINE! I'll do it. I'll tolerate "than" and "to", but I won't like it, and I'll never say them. Well, maybe I'll say "different than" a few times, just to practice hearing it and not screaming. You do present some persuasive arguments … Groan. OK, whatever.

    Thanks. I needed that.

  15. Stan says:

    The Happy Quibbler: You’re welcome. Thank you for the laughs! You don’t have to permit these variant expressions, but it makes for a more peaceful existence, and I think it would be better for your computer, too, in the long run. (Yes, I’m passive-aggressively advocating peace.) Everything is sacred, even disputed idioms.

  16. Nick Hart says:

    We are judged, like it or not, by the language we use – our choices of words, grammar and punctuation. The whole point of language is to make ourselves understood. However, when we converse, there are way to clarify what we mean – emphasis, repetition and a back-and-forth exchange until speaker and listener are both satisfied that the point has been accurately conveyed and understood. That is not the case with written words. They have to be right first time, and for that there must be clearly defined conventions designed to remove ambiguity. Writer and reader must have a clear and accurate understanding of what words mean, and the scaffolding of grammar and punctuation to put them into context. Eats, shoots and leaves..?

  17. Stan says:

    Thanks for your comment, Nick. Conventions of standard written English differ from place to place, context to context, and person to person. They are also subject to constant (though gradual) change. There are “no absolute standards of correctness in language”, as John Lyons wrote in Language and Linguistics — nor could there be. That there are, or should be, is not a notion to which I afford much credit.

    I wonder how you feel about different from, than, and to. Each is correct, standard, and unlikely to confuse a listener or a reader. People who are concerned with speaking and writing correctly according to context should, of course, be aware of the variants’ different distributions and degrees of acceptability. But regardless of their choice, I’ll not be judging them.

  18. Joy says:

    Stan, your last sentence interested me. I would say “I won’t be judging them.” Is “I’ll not be” an Irish usage? English? To my ears it would sound like a American kid trying to imitate the queen. But I assume it’s a totally standard usage for you, not that you are trying to sound queenly!

    It also amuses me that if American kids wanted to sound pompous and stuffy, we would speak (or would have spoken, when I was a kid) in what we imagine to be the queen’s English.

  19. Stan says:

    Joy, I don’t know! I might just as easily have written “I won’t be”, but “I’ll not be” is what came out. The idiom is quite common in colloquial Irish English, but it’s far from exclusively ours. Googling for phrases that use the same construction (e.g., “I’ll not be trying that again”) show a lot of results from many different places. You are right, of course, to assume that I wasn’t trying to sound like royalty! But you have me wondering about it now…

  20. Barrie says:

    I, too, would be just as likely to produce ‘I’ll not be’ as ‘I won’t be’. There may be a difference of empasis, but I’m not sure what it is.

    I disagree on the correctness point. A sentence such as ‘Builded house this which?’ is by any measure an incorrect form of ‘Who built this house?’

  21. Stan says:

    Barrie: I would adjust “by any measure” to “by any contemporary standard measure”. Your example is a fair one in the context of current standard English, but correctness depends on the applicable criteria, and these vary and are subject to change (e.g., clear communication isn’t always the primary function of an utterance). Any seemingly wrong sentence could be acceptable in some other context, however obscure, contrived, or facetious.

    For what it’s worth, Lyons’s point (which appears here) is echoed almost word for word by James D. Williams and John Wells. Whether or not we can take “absolute” to imply imperishability, no grammatical rule can be taken as immutable. Who knows what will be grammatical or not in five hundred years’ time?

  22. Barrie says:

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    I agree, but I think we must assume that, without any indication to the contrary, any discussion of English is of contemporary English. 

    David Crystal, too, in this early extract from his blog, acknowledges the vagaries of grammar over time while insisting that language is subject to rules:

    ‘A real rule is one which applies to a particular variety of a language (eg standard English) at a particular point in time, and it may or may not have exceptions. For instance, right now there is a rule which says that the definite article goes before and not after a noun – no exceptions to that. Always the cat and never cat the. (In some languages, definite articles go after the noun, so it is a real feature of English.) There are exceptions to the rule which says "add an s to form a plural noun", and these are equally rule-bound – the plural of goose is geese in standard English and never geeses. There's no flexibility in such cases – though of course the situation might change in the future.’

    The unexpressed corollary is that any departure from rules of this kind will produce incorrect English. To reproduce another example of my own, ‘Ships sail on the sea and aircraft fly in the air’ is correct and ‘Sea the on ship sailing, aircrafts but skyen flewed’ isn’t (and, I would guess, is unlikely ever to be).

    In similar vein, Geoffrey Pullum has written:

    ‘It is a complete caricature of linguists’ attitudes to usage that they think anything goes and regard everything that occurs as grammatical. They don’t. Quite to the contrary, they insist that there are constitutive correctness conditions for natural languages, conditions that define the difference between right (grammatical) and wrong (ungrammatical) for individual languages.’

  23. Barrie says:

    Ignore first line of above.

  24. Stan says:

    Thanks for the additional thoughts, Barrie — yours and the quoted ones. (I had read Crystal’s and Pullum’s lines before.) We’re in general agreement, I think. Perhaps in seeking to quash pseudo-rules I understate the importance of real grammar rules. They are so often conflated in discussions about language. Native speakers use actual rules automatically and intuitively, for the most part, and more or less continuously whenever they use or are exposed to their language.

  25. Barrie says:

    Agreed. Much misunderstanding arises from the failure of people to grasp the difference. One simple way of putting it is that descriptive grammar is a matter of fact whereas prescriptive rules are a matter of opinion.

  26. Nerketur says:

    I read this post from Dictionary.com, and it was rather intriguing. So much so, that I have to add my two cents.

    Language, in and of itself, doesn’t really have defined rules. It is simply a form of communication. Whether this communication is in the form of Japanese or English, it’s still language. Of course, English is different from Japanese, both written and spoken, but language is language.

    Language evolves as more and more people use it. Words are added, removed, considered obsolete, etc. every day. Same with grammar rules. The Urban Dictionary is a prime example. There are words that are used on the street that allow for communication of an otherwise incommunicable entity. Of course, this is for slang/colloquial English, but the same applies for “standard” English.

    While I do agree that there are some grammatical rules that are always followed in “standard” English, I can’t help but remember a humorous “rule” in the English language. “Every grammar rule for the English language has an exception.” Some “rules” actually have more exceptions than not. “I before E, Except after C” is a prime example. But this is not because it was an incorrect rile, it’s because the language evolved.

    As for the discussion in the post, I’ve used all three usages. I personally don’t like different than, though I use it, myself, at times. However, those that say “Different to” is incorrect, I ask you this. If someone exclaimed “This is different than before!” Would “Different to you!” be an incorrect response? I say no. “Different to him”, and “Different than him” have different meanings, though. “Different than” can mean the two entities are different. Like in “You are different than him.” But “different to” means, as I see it, that the state itself is different. “Does this feel different to you?”

    Funny, how people can find the smallest ways of debate over a topic. In my personal opinion, language evolves to become easier, not harder. Proper English has changed from what it was in 1960, and it will continue to do so, simply because what we define as “Proper” now, is going to be different in the future.

    In any case, I completely agree with you (Stan) in one aspect. “Language serves us; we do not serve the language.” So many people think the reverse is true, but in fact, as long as your point gets across, it doesn’t matter how you say it. It only matters when you say something, when meaning something else, like in “Let’s eat George.” vs “Let’s eat, George.” And this is coming from a grammar Nazi.

    Nonetheless, thank you for an interesting read. Now I know what to listen for, when I come across it again. =D

  27. Barrie says:

    A few comments on the previous post, if I may.

    ‘Language, in and of itself, doesn’t really have defined rules’

    Language most certainly does have defined rules. Just one of the many examples of the rules of English grammar is that determiners precede nouns. We have to say ‘my car’, not ‘car my’.

    ‘While I do agree that there are some grammatical rules that are always followed in “standard” English . . .’

    There are rules that are always followed in all varieties of English, not just in the standard variety.

    ‘Some “rules” actually have more exceptions than not. “I before E, Except after C” is a prime example’

    it isn’t a grammar rule.

    ‘Language evolves to become easier, not harder’

    Language changes to meet changing needs.

    ‘Proper English has changed from what it was in 1960’

    ‘Proper’ English, if it is anthing at all, is that which is appropriate at a particular time in a particular place for a particular purpose.

    ‘As long as your point gets across, it doesn’t matter how you say it’

    Not true at all. It matters very much. Most of us most of the time want to get our point across in a way that will give it a sympathetic hearing. How we do that will vary with circumstances.

  28. nerketur says:

    Firstly, Thank you for providing your insight. =) Secondly, I have to make a few comments, myself.

    “Language most certainly does have defined rules. Just one of the many examples of the rules of English grammar is that determiners precede nouns. We have to say ‘my car’, not ‘car my’.”

    Yes, in a specified language, that particular language has rules. But I’m talking about in general, Language has no rules. The ____ language has rules. But people make a new languages all the time, and create their own rules for them. Language is simply a means of communication. And there do exist unstructured languages. There are programming languages, Spoken languages and written languages. Language, as an entity, has no inherent rules, however. One cannot say “In EVERY conceivable language, one must …” anything.

    I do agree with everything else, except the last point.

    “Not true at all. It matters very much. Most of us most of the time want to get our point across in a way that will give it a sympathetic hearing. How we do that will vary with circumstances.”

    This is true. However, this deals with a persons own wants and desires. And this is subjective. That means, simply, that you CAN say it how you want, as long as the meaning stays the same. If it mattered how we say things, then everyone would have to say things the same way. But this isn’t the case. There are times that there is one “proper” way to word a sentence, but most of the time, we have our own preferences, especially with contractions.

    For example, under your thinking, which is better?

    (1) “I have not been to that store”
    (2) “I’ve not been to that store”
    (3) “I haven’t been to that store”

    They all mean the exact same thing, are all grammatically correct, and everyone will choose a different way of saying it. Written, however, I would suppose you’ll see very little of number 2.

    Now, I do understand that people who want to sound supportive, sympathetic, etc., will do so. But it still boils down to preference. Language is what you make it in the end. If it wasn’t, then people would all sound the same, speak the same, and, like computers, if we strayed off the “correct grammar” path, we wouldn’t understand each other.

    PS: Yes, the rule I gave was more of a spelling rule. How about the rule of using “a” or “an” in front of a word? Words that start with “h” are exceptions to the rule “If it starts with a vowel, use ‘an’” For example, “An hour and a half”

    Before you give the argument “Oh, you have to use syllables, not the letters,” consider the fact that people with certain accents would say it differently, since they don’t pronounce the “h”

    “An ‘our and a ‘alf” –Would be incorrect if the rule used syllables.

    Or if you want an odd example:

    “A human.” –According to letter, this is right, but some people pronounce it without the “h”, causing by syllable to be wrong.

    Granted, it has few exceptions, but it’s the easiest to think of. Isn’t English cool? xD

    PPS: Yes, I’m the same Nerketur from before.

  29. Stan says:

    Nerketur: Thanks for your thoughtful comments. Like Barrie, I would not consider “I before E, except after C” a rule of grammar. It’s a mnemonic to aid spelling, and it’s not a very reliable one.

    The tendency to reject valid usages (such as different to/than) as univerally wrong or ungrammatical is very widespread. People are entitled to their pet peeves and stylistic preferences, but I’d like if they could keep them in perspective instead of sanctifying them and denouncing the unbelievers.

    • old gobbo says:

      Re M/Nerketur 7may

      a) Try ‘i’ before ‘e’ except after ‘c’ – when pronounced like an ‘ee’
      (& Stan 8 May)

      b) I may be wrong but I have the impression you are combining two different meanings, consider: “Does this feel different than you to you?” (or as I would say, “… from you to you?”)

      re Stan and Joy 1May: surely “I shall not be judging them”, for fear of sounding Scots … or indeed Irish ?

      and re everyone: I’ve not got space to deal with all the points here

  30. John Cowan says:

    I believe that “I’ve not” is Scottish and Irish, and thus possibly to be found in Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, and parts of the Caribbean. It ceased to be used in England a long time ago, and never spread to mainland America as far as I know.

  31. I think I might still use it (in southern England).

  32. [...] Is it “different from”, “different than”, or “different to”? All of ‘em. [...]

  33. [...] QES, its Academy, and pet peevers everywhere. For example, after surveying the range of opinion on what prepositions can follow different, I found that from, than, and to are all valid – to varying degrees in different contexts – yet [...]

  34. [...] thorough investigation of the history of different from/than/to from Stan [...]

  35. esinkuma peri-ockiya says:

    Am truly surprised to see all these write ups and arguements in favour of the use of ‘differenf than’. This is because I had never heard it being used anywhere or any time but lately when I started watching american seasonal movies on cable. It often jared my nerves to hear not only the teens use the phrase but their parents as well. That pushed me to google and end my predicament. I was so sure I would find out that it was very wrong , however I saw strong arguements for the use of the expression dating back to the ages. Wow,! Bet this is also the handiwork of an american. I know they love flexibility and would do anything to make life easier. Eg.’ labor’ instead of ‘ labour’. I do admire that but will never join in . That might be because am ‘different than’ oh sorry,different from you all.

  36. Stan says:

    That’s one of the great pleasures of language, esinkuma: we get to choose how we use it. I don’t find much use for different than, but there are occasions and contexts when it seems the best choice. It’s very common in casual U.S. English usage, as you’ve noticed, and I suspect that if anything, it will become more widespread. Your initial reaction against it is very natural: usages that we’re not used to reading or hearing can sound very strange and wrong, even though they might sound perfectly normal to someone else. So it’s worth developing a habit of not rushing to judgement!

    • Joy says:

      Yes, good not to rush to judgment – as I almost did when I saw that you spelled it “judgement!” After all, maybe spelling in your part of the world is different from / than / to spelling where I live…

  37. esinkuma peri-ockiya says:

    The thing with this Stan, is not the correctness or not alone of the use of DIfferent ‘than’ or ‘to’. It also includes the fact that its not self explanatory when being used by a user in a conversation with a non user( who may not even bother to ask the user for an explanation, while busy feeling embarrassed for him or her). It could only come in handy if one found one’s self in that place of dominant usage so as to be easily understood. Period! Whereas ‘different from’ is understood by all. It doesn’t have to be explained. I have used it effectively all my life without the option of the others and ‘I find no fault’ in it. The only way I see the usage of the former two spreading( as you suggested) is if it forms part of the classroom curriculum for younger pupils.That way, everyone who went through formal education would understand that when someone says ‘the zebra is different than the cat’ he or she only means ‘ the zebra is bigger,stronger, more striped, more vegetarian,etc than the cat’. That its applicable to the comparative ‘er’ words only!( Well, that’s how I understood the explanations so far)

  38. joy says:

    In the world I live in (North America) EVERYONE uses “different than” except me (I was raised being told that one had to say different from, and being corrected all the time). So yes, of course children grow up using “different than” in their education, as do their teachers.

    To me “different to” sounds weird – but I know it is the common usage in some places, so I just allow myself to be privately amused by it.

    Which is probably what we all should do. I can’t imagine anyone has the slightest trouble understanding the variants they don’t use. So just use whichever one you are used to, and accept that there are regional variants in English usage and that’s that.

  39. Stan says:

    esinkuma: The meaning of each idiom resides in the word different; the prepositions are secondary elements that are often interchangeable. A speaker might not be used to some of them, and might not like some of them, but each idiom’s meaning is transparent: different is the key word that does the semantic work. Different to and different than are already thoroughly integrated into the language, without needing any help from a school curriculum.

    joy: I sometimes feel an urge to spell it judgment: the “e” seems surplus to requirements! But judgement is the conventional spelling in my part of the world. Your approach to the different different phrases is sensible. We should use whatever comes naturally, and not fetishize our preferences. Variation is something to enjoy and explore, not denounce by default.

  40. esinkuma peri-ockiya says:

    Well Stan, I get your point. However you must note that my emphasis has never really been on the intelligibility of both usages between users of ‘different to/than/from, but rather on the correctness or otherwise of the first two. (After all that’s what led to my finding your blog) . So when you say one should use whichever is comfortable with him/her, you are in essence, saying the same thing I am saying, which is that one has no choice but to remain calm while a user of either of the first two uses it. But it does not stop a non user’s ears from tingling whenever the usage occurs. It only needs developing a thick skin. Check out Joy, who has been in a predominant area for the ‘different than’ usage but has continued using ‘different from’ while being secretly amused at hearing the other usage. Now that’s the spirit! Keep it up lady!
    In the part of the world where I live in,you don’t find anyone who uses ‘different to or than’. It does and would sound wierd(especially ‘different to’) and the only way that can ever change is through a school curriculum as I earlier suggested. But I bet Joy does not sound weird in North America where she sticks to ‘different from’ and that would be because its more atuned with whats normal to hear.
    On a last note, I shall remain unjudgemental if and when I hear the other usages because I now know its acceptable in some parts of the world. And that would probably be on TV until I leave my cosy part of the world(shivers, goose bumps) for those particular places.LOL

  41. [...] Copyblogger says “using the word ‘than’ after different is a grammatical blunder”. No: different than is grammatically fine. It would have taken two minutes to look this up in a few reliable modern references. The same [...]

  42. Paul says:

    “Today is warmer ‘than’ yesterday” = understandable syntax and context. “You are different, (when compared) to all the rest” = you are a ‘singular’ person – perhaps quirky, unique, or rebellious. “Things have changed, and are different from yesterday” = new rules apply, since yesterday.

    Things are different than… than what? – Different than “back in the day’?

    Which day? Another ‘suspended in mid air’ orphaned American subversion (A pseudo-historical reference – devoid of context). Over the last 30 years I have watched it creep into the UK English lexicon, by mindless people with bite-sized brains, who also like to end many conversational sentences with the vacuous word “…so”. So… ‘What’?

    I feel that the problem arises from what is often described as ‘cognitive dissonance’ (simultaneously holding two unresolved subjective opinions or feelings in conflict with each other). “Different than” sounds and feels grammatically conflicted and disconnected, thankfully still, to the majority of people: As when some PhD anthropologist might make an indigenous rain forest native laugh, with his pathetic attempts at speaking in their tongue – or learning African ‘click’ languages, as a further example.

    Another American ‘reverse language engineering’ I have noticed creeping into our UK lexicon, in the media, and on the written page, usually in advertising, is the use of another ‘contextual dissonance’ where one might typically use “from – to”. I’ve heard people use the weather-forecast expression “the temperature will vary between 19 to 23 degrees”, where they meant, “The temperature will vary, from (a low of) 19 to (a high of) 23 degrees”. “We are open between 9am to 6pm”. “The distance between London and Birmingham is between 119 to 121 miles depending on which route you use”. When they mean “can vary from (a low reference point of) 119 to (a high reference point of) 121 miles”. No one would say 119 “than” 121 miles, would they?

    Just because one can quote 1000 references to justify slack jawed grammar, that doesn’t make it an acceptable standard for communication or educational clarity. Many Americans I’ve watched writing or eating don’t know how to hold a pen, or knife and fork, despite the implements being around for a thousand years. They are a young, still evolving, nation and we should forgive them their peccadilloes, not reinforce them with spurious, quasi-academic, liberal posturing. Alot (sic) of Americans are ‘literally’ clueless and have been successfully intellectually homogenised by the US public education system, purely for industrialised consumption purposes, since the publishing of ‘Propaganda’ (a seminal Freudian 1928 book by Edward Bernays from which all modern advertising and politics has flowed to become the ‘collective unconscious’ of C. G, Jung).

    Pleez check out the mountains of “WTF” comments on every video posting on You Tube, and see if you can identify which ones are American. Welcome to The Matrix, Mr Anderson. Guess who took the Blue Pill?

    Thank you for flagging The Inevitable (Agent Smith) encroachment and grudging acceptance of dumbed-down Orwellian, TV-controlled American speak, from ‘Oceania’.

    When Aldous Huxley lived in America from 1926, it stimulated the book ‘Brave New World’, written in 1932, because he concluded that Dystopia had already arrived there. Since 9/11/2001, Orwell’s Big Brother from ‘1984’ has held the reins of power and put America on a conveniently-permanent war footing. He also prophetically described a TV state-controlled society by 1984, written in 1948. Progress, doncha luv it?

  43. Joy Hecht says:

    Goodness me, aren’t we being rather patronizing (yes, patroniZing) about the pecadilloes of those young, still-evolving Americans! Language is what is spoken. English varies enormously from place to place. If 90 million Americans consider “different from” to be correct – far less than the entire population of the UK, I may add – I hardly think it appropriate to dismiss this as the result of propaganda, industrial consumption, or intellectual homogenization.

    Vivent les différences, they are fascinating, but lets keep the snobbery out of it!

    • Laugh, I nearly fell of my stool reading this..!

      I think your ‘different from’ confusion-allusion is so self-defeating as to be almost beneath response. I don’t decry ‘different from’ at all, as it is correct, in my experience, by and large. While I thoroughly agree that English is an evolving and comprehensive language it has many recent additions which are counter intuitive, vulgarising and perverted, like calling something “sick” if it is an unusually adventurous snow board jump (a recent English Google internet advert).

      As for “being a snob”..! Yeah, right LOL: The back streets of a prefab Belfast sinkpond council estate (think: trailer trash) called “Tin Town”. A Harland & Wolff Shipyard plumbing apprenticeship, with a modest Plumbing Craft, City & Guilds of London (Technical Distiction). Admittedly, they used to call me “The One Thou’ Plumber” and I did have the highest IQ of 2000 apprentices. over 10 years of the training centre.

      I do admit to being a fine wine, opera (Covent Garden mostly) and Kate Bush fan (a unique princess of British pop wholly unapprciated by philistine mainstream America), but I also like American-Italian Mario Lanza and do more than a passing rendition of his songs. Paradoxically Mario is sneered at by many opera snobs, yet he inspired some of the greatest opera singers, Like Placido Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti.

      At the age of 8 years, on my own, I visited a special American Art exhibition held in Belfast Museum, and was discussing a certain painting by one of the entries. What I described as “a spread out bird’s nest on canvas”, at the time, to the curator. No 31 by Jackson Pollock. I was told it was worth £2000.. in 1960.

      The above prolly makes me unique and different than you, hopefully. I love you ignorant flamers.

      Go forth and multiply, with my blessing =) X.

      • joy says:

        LOL! I was brought up (in New York City) by my mother who strictly corrected me EVERY time I said “different than” and told me that it was wrong and I must say “different from.” I have FINALLY learned to stop correcting the English of others on this issue (I still correct them in my head) – but I clearly am incapable of even typing “different than” unless I think about it quite carefully. Yesterday I was exhausted and jetlagged, so of course I typed “different from!” Today I am reasonably awake, so I think I got the versions I meant where I meant them.

  44. joy says:

    And incidentally, given that it’s only 30% of Americans who think “different than” is correct, but I hardly know anyone (other than my mother and me) who says “different from,” I wonder “different than” is an east coast thing, and people elsewhere in the country still say “different from.” It’s interesting if people who post here specify where they grew up – that may make it easier to detect the regional variations in what is considered correct.

    And also incidentally, my increased willingness to accept different variations of correct skyrocketed when I moved to Newfoundland, where “I is” for “I am” and “where you to” for “where are you” are both absolutely standard. When you live with that, how can you get upset about different from/than/to/whatever?

  45. Claude says:

    I’m having so much fun visiting you in my old age. I speak very little now and listen a lot. If I had known, sixty years ago, how complicated it would be to learn English, I might never have attempted to read Byron and Shelley. When writing, I’m still at the stage of trying to decide where to put a comma in a sentence. And, in a conversation, I’ve never been able to shake off the French-Canuck accent. Somehow, I’m always forgiven! After all, wherever we are, and with whomever we speak, true friends always claim: “Vive la différence!”

  46. [...] from would have been “very awkward and difficult” in the instances in question. My post on different than, from, and to, which received a fresh flurry of comments recently, shows that different than is [...]

  47. Ken Westmoreland says:

    The confusion arises because English is a mixture of languages, with Latin words following Germanic rules of grammar.

    ‘Different from’ follows Latin and Norman French (hence ‘different des autres’ in French) whereas ‘different than’ is more Germanic – the Dutch say ‘anders dan anders’, which can be translated as ‘other than others’, or ‘different from [or than!] others’. The same is probably true of ‘different to’, as the German ‘im Unterscheid zu’ (literally ‘in contrast to’).

    The advantage of using ‘different from’ is that it’s accepted in both American and British English, whereas ‘different than’ and ‘different to’ are regionalisms. I’m happy for regional variations to exist in English, but where there are expressions that are accepted by everyone, we should use them.

  48. Picky says:

    There is clearly nothing grammatically or logically incorrect about any of the three forms: it’s a question of idiom. The data seem to indicate an overwhelming bias in the language towards “from”. So unless “than” is required by the form of the sentence, the advice in spoken and especially written English would seem to be: “Use From”. It is good to see prescriptivism and descriptivism agreeing.

    • I couldn’t agree more. The weather here in Brighton (glorious sunshine all afternoon till sunset) was a lot better ‘than’ yeaterday, which was mostly overcast and cold :-). However, I watched a science documentary on Top Documentary Films (.com) last night which used ‘to’, ‘from’ and ‘than’ in the narrative, all of which appeared, to my ears at least, to mean the same thing. American of course.

  49. Stan says:

    A couple of recent comments suggest that we should use from because it’s the least disputed. I don’t share this urge towards uniformity: I think we should use whichever structure comes naturally – though we might occasionally want to pay more heed, and avoid contentious versions of the phrase.

    • Dear Stan,

      Again, I can’t disagree with you in principle. The simple fact is, that in all languages with their regional variations, some words, grammar and syntax may be unintelligible (let alone pronunciation) to someone living a hundred miles further South.

      I celebrate in the UK: Welsh, Midlands, Yorkshire, Geordie and the many accents North of the Border. And of course my own Ulster. There is a rich, and amusing diversity. Much of it I find highly entertaining.

      Unfortunately, as in the case of the USA, we get what UK watchers see as a jarring difference of word-use coming from what are otherwise highly educated university professors. (Their science meets conformity of repeatability but not their grammar, while guiding the viewer through a fascinating astrophysical journey), They are usually in the physical sciences – rather than the literary and cultural – as I have witnessed hundreds of times on topdocumentaryfilms.com (1800+ free, feature-length documentaries).

      There are other peculiar word-redundancy habits of Americans also, such as “getting off of”, instead of “getting off”; “beat up on”, instead of “beat up” “drill a hole out”, instead of “drill a hole”. “Take the shopping up”, instead of “Take the shopping”.

      Whereas, they leave out grammatical connections, such as “I went Tuesday”. instead of “I went on Tuesday”, “Three hundred, forty seven”, instead of “Three hundred and forty seven”, as we say in the UK.

      Even highly-educated Americans can’t seem to agree on how to use grammar. It is a communication discordance which we don’t generally have in the UK – unless some media front person decides to be perversely-American just to be ‘fashionable and trendy’.

      I notice this increasingly-common ‘dumbing down’ aberration as a growing influence on young UK people particularly. As I said earlier, “like Darwinism in reverse”. Exemplified by the American college-pop group DEVO.

      For example, I cite my nieces (and daughter – Oxford University, Business Studies) on Facebook, etc. Fortunately, my son (Glamorgan Uni, Aeronautical and Aerospace Engineering) maintains high standards, even in his casual texts, which I find laudable.

      Sometimes, young people (You Tube comments) completely mangle spelling, where it would never have happened in my youth (‘prolly’ instead of ‘probably’ – it smacks of intellectual and mental laziness, in my view). However, there may be an emotion driven anti-establishment subversiveness going on here, rather like what we saw in The Matrix. Freud would probably have known its origins – from somewhere in the naturally-rebellious young subconscious, perhaps..?

      Paul

  50. Picky says:

    Firstly, I would not want to go along with Mr Campbell. Secondly, if you were referring to me, Stan, I would not assert that “from” is the least disputed, but that if your data are pukka – and of course they give little sense of register – “from” is overwhelmingly the most favoured. Forgive me, but the suggestion that we should use what comes naturally doesn’t seem to me very helpful. You and I are no doubt fairly relaxed in our language and can slip in and out of the standard with confident ease. Not everyone finds it so simple. Advising them to use what is clearly the standard form has value. Advising them to use what comes naturally is … to let them down, I’m afraid.

    • I would accept “prolly” as being ‘light-hearted, convenience, modish’, etc if that were an intentionally conscious effort to be entertaining, and communicate in a quirky affectation for amusement. However, I suspect that in many cases (judging from the context), the writer usually suffers from an obviously severely terminated education in English generally. Unfortunately I have not made a collection of these horrors but they are all over the place, mostly spattering the walls of You Tube.

      Oi can be loik the rest of the gert lumpen proletariat if I have a mind to but when expressing a semi-intelligent or even jocular comment or opinion, on what is a generally universal medium like You Tube, I make an effort to be reasonably cogent, concise and universally intelligible.

      Such individuals usually also accompany such words with other, unrecognisable spellings, grammar and punctuation. I’m guessing that many may not share English as a primary language. Therefore they may be spelling, as I suspect, phonetically from a mispronounced cultural-vernacular source to start with.

  51. Stan says:

    Edward: I don’t find the “peculiar habits” you mention jarring at all. To me they’re just variant usages, intrinsically neither better nor worse. We can prefer certain constructions without censuring the alternatives.

    I’ve never used prolly, and I have no plans to adopt it, but I hear and see it used now and then by all sorts of people in casual contexts such as informal conversation and social media; it strikes me as a modish, light-hearted convenience – not a sign of “intellectual and mental laziness”. Language strives towards economy of expression.

    Picky: The first image in the post alludes to register, since speech is generally less formal than writing, at least as far as the Collins corpus is concerned. From is by some margin the most common preposition in writing, but it isn’t overwhelmingly so in speech: to and than feature substantially in UK and US speech, respectively.

    You speak of “the standard form” as if there were only One Right Way. This is not the case. “Most favoured” does not equate to “singular standard”. To repeat what the Columbia Guide to Standard American English says of different from, different than and different to: “All are Standard and have long been so”. Picky, you have let me down!

  52. Picky says:

    We’ll not agree, I think, because we come at this from different angles. (That is, your angle is different to … Oh, hang on …)

    You believe people should be able to use any of the three forms without being moaned at by ignorant miserable peevers. (And so do I).

    My concern is for those many people who seek guidance because they are not comfortable with their command of standard English. I would be happy to tell them that all three forms are OK, but my advice would not be to use whatever you feel like.

    We’re not so far apart, but those few inches are not insignificant.

  53. [...] and some will balk at the preposition than being coupled with different. I’m OK with different than, but the line is a little different in that its different functions not as an adjective but as a [...]

  54. KA Spencer says:

    I’m sorry to disabuse all those who are unable to see that “different than” is almost always incorrect. I say “almost” but I am quite unable to think of an example where it would be correct.
    Some notable writers may have used it in their writings, but that does not make it correct. Even the cleverest or most highly esteemed can be wrong.

    “Different than” carries the implication that “different” describes some degree, or range, of variation between two compared entities. It does not. “Different” is not a qualifiable property – it simply indicates that the two entities are not the same. No degree can be implied, as no characteristic is being measured.

    Thus, “different” is not like “longer” or “lighter”, which are adjectives with degree. Whereas I can be “shorter than” you, or you can be “lighter than” me, you cannot be “different than” me because “different”, unlike “length” or “weight”, is not scalar. The two entities are either different or the same, and unless the word is being used as a proxy for a scalar property, there is no degree. Perhaps someone can create a sentence in which “difference” is used as such a proxy!

    We are therefore left with the options of using either “different from” or “different to”. As the word “different” probably derives from the use of “di-”, meaning “apart”, and “-ferre…” meaning “to set or carry” there is an implication of separation, and so the preferable form must surely be “different from” rather than “different to”. However, “different than” is completely indefensible in my view.

    • Joy says:

      LOL! Language changes, and it changes in ways that don’t always follow the rules. When virtually everyone in a whole continent (North America, in this case) uses a phrase, it is definitely correct.

      In your dialect of English, “different to” and “different from” may be acceptable and “different than” is heard as odd, but other dialects of English are quite different. If anyone in North America heard “different to,” they would probably assume that the user was not a native speaker of English. “Different from” passes unnoticed, “different than” is standard English. The variant used by virtually native speakers, in speech and in writing, in formal as well as informal prose, is correct.

      And “rules” of grammar are an attempt to codify what is correct based on what most people feel is correct. They do not prescribe what is correct when they run counter to what is uniformly agreed to be the way the language is used.

      • Americans also use words like ‘adaption’ (no such official word), instead of adaptation, and ‘acclimate’ (instead of acclimatise – only in America). Just because Americans generally, ignorantly, mangle and mispronounce the English language, does not make it universally correct or acceptable – except in America. Your hubris is so typical of a nation that has the lowest level of passport take up in the Western world – you need to get out more…

      • Joy says:

        Goodness gracious, if I didn’t travel all the time, how would I know that English people (and, I think, Australians) say “different to?” Or that Filipinos run around “like headless chickens” instead of “like a chicken with its head cut off?” Or that Bangladeshis say “according to me” instead of “in my opinion?” Or that Newfoundlanders say “I’s” instead of “I am?”

        English is spoken all over the world, and it varies wherever it is spoken – as do all other languages, of course. If everyone in a place thinks something is correct, then in their version of the language, it is correct. So for you “different from” and “different to” are correct, for most North Americans “different than” is correct. Just because the English language originated in England centuries ago doesn’t mean the way it is now spoken in England is the only correct version of the language for the millions of people who speak it every day and who have never been to England in their lives!

        Lots of English terms all over the world are NOT considered correct, of course. I’ve never heard “adaption,” I don’t think, and I would certainly consider it incorrect. I think there is a subtle difference between “acclimatize” (which, of course, we spell with a “z”, not an “s” – or do you think that’s also incorrect?) and “acclimate.” The former specifically refers to adapting to the climate (weather, that is), whereas the latter refers to adapting to any new situation (e.g. living in a new place, starting a new job). Other people might think they are the same, or might think only one is correct, I’m not sure. Both are certainly standard English as I know it. I do have trouble with the Newfoundland “I’s”, and I don’t think anyone here would use it in writing, unless they were deliberately writing in informal NL English, as in some fiction. But when everyone in a place agrees that a usage is correct in both formal and informal use of the language, then it is correct in that place.

        And Filipinos do talk about headless chickens!

      • Joy, I accept that wherever you are from, you are not typical. ‘Adaption’ was used by a world renowned astrophysicist, when describing one of his high tec telescopes, which was ‘adapted’ to sense ultra-low infrared astronomy, on a recent documentary I watched on topdocumentaryfilms.com (You Tube hosted). As I said earlier on this ‘wall’, different ‘to’, ‘from’ and ‘than’ were also used on a cosmology doc, along with an-’tie’ particles and anti-matter, by the same commentator. Confused, much. I acknowledge that Americans prefer ‘z’ to ‘s’, that is their prerogative.

      • Joy says:

        What do you mean by an-”tie” particles? and anti-matter? Anti-matter is a term in physics, isn’t it? Are you referring to pronunciation, that you put “tie” in quotes?

        Of course “z” for “s” is American (i.e. US, not North American) spelling, as is “-or” rather than “-our” in many words. And Filipinos have headless chickens. We all use – and spell – the language differently.

        There is a distinction between errors (e.g. “adaption”) and different usages (e.g. different from / to / than). If I speak in a way that my compatriots / peers / fellow-citizens / whatever think is wrong, then I’m probably wrong. If I speak in a way that everyone around me thinks is correct, but people halfway around the world think is wrong, then we probably speak different variants of the language.

        And BTW, I grew up in NYC and live in Newfoundland. Of course my travel is not typical, but that’s not related. Someone who never leaves her place of origin – whether that’s NY or rural Newfoundland – will speak the way the people around them speak. And that’s the correct variant of their version of the language.

        Actually, on a more interesting note – I had a discussion recently with a friend who is an ESL teacher in Halifax about variants of both French and English. There is apparently a variant of English used by her students which neither you nor I would consider correct, but which is quite functional for their purpose, which is to be able to deal with English in the business world in their home countries. And there is also a version of French in Canada which is known to linguists as “French-immersion French.” To my way of thinking (I am pretty much fluent in French as spoken in France), the people I have met who did French immersion speak an appallingly ungrammatical French. They get genders wrong on nouns, they don’t bother with noun-adjective agreement (of course they can’t bother with it, since they haven’t learned the genders of nouns), they conjugate verbs wrong, etc. But my linguist ESL-teacher friend said this is a variant of French that has become standard in Canada, and some linguists consider that to be simply a different form of the language, along with the ones spoken in Quebec, France, Acadian parts of Nova Scotia & New Brunswick, the Maghreb, and many African countries, all of which differ from each other just as your English differs from mine. I’m still not sure I can wrap my brain around ESL-English and French-immersion-French as “valid” variants of those languages, but perhaps I should! It might be like Modern Standard Arabic, which is spoken by no one except news announcers, but was created to have a common version of that language that could be understood by all the speakers of variants that diverge far more than your English from mine.

        p.s. Notwithstanding my strong defense of anyone’s right to say “different than,” I grew up saying “different from,” and I mentally correct people EVERY TIME I hear them say “different than!” It drives me nuts, actually. But I never correct them out loud, nor do I edit it out of their writing. I also mentally correct people every time they use “who” for “whom” – but having just read a piece about “whom” disappearing from English, I don’t correct that one out loud either. I would correct it in writing, though.

        On the other hand, I am starting to accept the use of “they” as a gender-neutral singular, instead rewriting my way around that usage every time it comes up. So for me, “there’s someone at the door, I’ll see what they want” is now a correct and valued alternative to “I’ll see what she or he wants” – and I don’t have to say “I’ll see who it is” instead to avoid the issue altogether.

      • My dear Joy, I have to laugh. Newfies don’t speak English. I’m not surprised you speak French. Anything is preferable to Newfspeak – except perhaps backstreet Belfast, where I come from, “y’know”?

        You have my sympathy.

        My new partner, Dr. Deborah Evans, speaks French to PhD level and is writing for several university philosophy departments (and is – we are, on my insistence :-) – about to go over to Paris, in a few weeks time, to interview the adopted daughter of Simone de Beauvoir, Sylvie LeBon de Beauvoir. Simone, as you doubtless know, was the highly intelligent, but ‘morganatic’, philosopher-mistress of Jean-Paul Sartre, the famous misogynistic postmodern French philosopher).

        I have suggested we ‘do’ Mon-re-al, and ‘Kebek’, when I, or hopefully ‘we’, tour Canada, from Halifax to Vancouver, as soon as ‘we’ can scrape up the necessary. I lived in London, ON, from Aug 1957 to June 1958, and despised my ‘homesick’ xenophobic parents for returning to Belfast, after a mere 11 months in, what was to me, Paradise on Earth.

        I wouldn’t mind making a small diversion over the St Lawrence to say ‘hello’. I sailed up It, in the Canadian Pacific, Empress of Britain, in Aug 1957 – what a dream 5 days that was, from Liverpool to Tor’ono’.

        I must revisit ‘Anne of Green Gables’..!

        Now you’re upsetting me…… I would die to live in Canada again. I almost bought a fairy tale mansion house on the Cabot Trail, with 4 bedrooms, 5 acres and a view of Pleasant Bay for only $205K – for sale again in 2013, but ‘too far’ from Halifax, for my new partner, sadly.

      • Joy says:

        Edward, come visit St. John’s any time! But don’t call anyone here a Newfie, it’s a rude slur. Newfoundland English is fascinating, though – check it out: http://www.heritage.nf.ca/dictionary/

        Why do I have your sympathy? This is a stunningly beautiful place and a really interesting place to live. Come visit – but be warned, an awful lot of folks come here for a visit and end up staying!

      • Sympathy is in relation to how so many Canadians make fun of the Newfoundland accent. There are lots of videos on the subject on You Tube. Ever heard of ‘tongue in cheek’? Kind regards.

        “Life is far too serious to be taken seriously”, Oscar Wilde.

    • K A Spencer, you can’t ‘disabuse’ typical Americans – they don’t know what it means… They are likely to think you are both ‘dissing’ them and ‘abusing’ them, at the same time – a double whammy..! Ooops..! ;-)

    • Mike says:

      ““Different than” carries the implication that “different” describes some degree, or range, of variation between two compared entities. It does not. “Different” is not a qualifiable property – it simply indicates that the two entities are not the same. No degree can be implied, as no characteristic is being measured.”

      I take it then that “other than” is also illogical and therefore incorrect. There is no “otherer” or “otherest,” and therefore, by your line of argument, no warrant for saying “other than.”

      • KA Spencer says:

        I thought that this thread had died, and was resting in gratitude for that. But then:

        Mike, think about it: “other” is not an adjective. It has many forms of usage, but in the context of “other than”, it is being used as a synonym for “except”, or as what is known as a “determiner”. In this context, “other than” becomes the equivalent of “different from”.
        This is a wonderful example of the complexity and richness of our language, and is why English has the largest vocabulary of the western modern languages.
        All the best
        Ken

      • Mike says:

        Alas, the software did not allow me to reply directly to the response below. KASpencer writes, ““other” is not an adjective.”

        Except that in such common phrases as “other things than these” it *is* being used as an adjective.

        “In this context, “other than” becomes the equivalent of “different from”.”

        I see. So “than” cannot be used with “different” because its use implies comparison, but if it is used with “other,” then it is simply equivalent to “from,” and therefore your much-vaunted logical consistency is context-dependent–and thus is no logical consistency at all.

  55. Stan says:

    To KA Spencer: The key phrase in your comment is “in my view”. When there’s a dispute about language correctness, we do well to look at established usage and to read what reliable authorities say. Both support different than. The creative logic you employ simply does not apply; it’s a post hoc justification for a prescriptivist position. It’s not just “some notable writers” who use different than: entire speech communities do, which is why you’ll find American Heritage, Chicago Manual, Merriam-Webster et al. defending it.

    Joy: You make your case well, and with admirable patience.

    • KA Spencer says:

      Sorry Stan …

      I reject all of your points. As for the Chicago Manual, Webster, et al, I am afraid that they have ruined our language, and destroyed any possibility of you ever being able to speak and write it properly. I may be prescriptive, but I am right: my argument is correct and is consistent with the semantics, logic, and grammar.

      You treat nouns as verbs, you omit conjunctions and prepositions, you switch tenses, you do not apply rules of spelling of participles, you emphasise the wrong syllables, you ignore ligatures and diphthongs, you order your date elements illogically, you do not use ordinal and cardinal numbers correctly, you say “second of all”, and you apply your view of our language even to the extent of changing the spelling of proper nouns and of the content literary works of our native language. And then you export all of these misdemeanours, through popular culture, computer software, film and media, and acquisition and re-export of publications, to the rest of the world.

      I suppose all this could be seen the fault of the English themselves, who have been too polite to resist the steady Americanisation (is there a less ugly word for that) of the English language. I do not object per se, to your use, nor to your changes, of our language, nor to those writers in your country (including those of the references which you made), but I will object if you attempt to impose your usage rules on native English speakers in the country where the language was born.

      Regards.

      • Dear K A Spencer

        I love it, the way you ‘talk dirty’.

        I have a very ‘old-school’ friend who, like you, understands all the technical aspects of the English language. She too decries the inexorable descent into barbarism, and was for several decades, the best PA in the British Airports Authority, with up to 200 wpm Pitman shorthand and 100 wpm typing, has been in choirs for the last 70 odd years, and is a good sight reader/pianist. Her brother was a Colonel in REME (British Army) and designed missiles. His son is a global peripatetic Prof of Economics at Liverpool, and the daughter is a professional engineer.

        Sadly, and I am just as culpable, most people today (I would say 99%) do not know a diphthong from an undergarment, or a ligature from an Elastoplast.

        My favourite Americanism is where it is now common (vulgar) practice to lump groups as ‘plural’, as opposed to ‘singular body’. I saw it lamentably used for the Sussex Orchestra ‘are’ and ‘we’, instead of ‘is’ and ‘it’.

        Most deplorable of all, it has now insinuated itself into the halls of Westminster. The Labour Party ‘are’ in agreement”. etc…!

        “Après moi, le déluge,” King of France Louis XV (1710-1774).

        I blame Edward Bernays, (nephew of Sigmund Freud), the seminal author of ‘Propaganda’ (1928), and a universal consultant to corporations and presidents, who crystallised (he was not unique, as ever) the concept of ‘manufacturing desire, need, and discontent among the general public’.

        I submit, his tactics were to oversimplify basic human desire, create dissatisfaction with what one has, and foment the modern addiction to ‘newness’. The results of which have been: dumbing down of the language; and funnelling people’s wish-fulfilment into ever narrower, and more short-term, concepts of instant gratification. Think, Steve Jobs and iPhone, Windows 8, et al.

        “Her clothes are so ‘last week’, darling”, for women. (My last partner had 200 dresses, 70 pairs of jeans, 50 pairs of boots and shoes, 30 handbags, 30 overcoats, 20 jackets, etc, and “nothing to wear”. Despite her ‘bacon slicer’ business mind, she refused to see herself as a fashion victim).

        My present existentialist-philosopher (Sartre/De Beauvoir) PhD partner has 2 wardrobe feet of clothes, so I’ve bought her $5000 worth of clothes (on eBay) – just for fun (that’s my excuse – she’s horrified). Well, one has to keep up appearances, doesn’t one..?

        ‘Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose’, Les Guêpes, January édition, 1849, Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, editor of Le Figaro, etc.

  56. Barrie says:

    That comment is so full of ignorance, prejudice and muddle that it’s hard to know where to begin to respond to it. So I won’t.

  57. Stan says:

    KA: I’m not American, and you’re evidently not interested in serious debate. That’s a shame.

    • KA Spencer says:

      Stan,

      I do not know whether to apologise or not for assuming that you were American. If I should, then I do. I was tempted into that assumption by your mention of those American references. As a past editor of two magazines, they were the bane of my life. I have never been in favour of burning books, but they stretched my inclination (if that is possible!).

      It is not that I am “… not interested …” in debate, for I do it all the time. I simply reject your accusation of “post hoc justification for a prescriptivist [surely you mean prescriptive?] position”. Likewise I do not use “creative logic” – logic exists – I don’t thinkl I have ever created any.

      Yours, in perpetual favour of “different from”, and “similar to”,

      KA Spencer

      • Oh dear, everybody’s out of step except our Spence. Absolutely nobody cares what you think, mate: people will carry on speaking English the way they want, and all your spittle-flecked ranting can do nothing about it. Get over yourself.

      • Joy says:

        Terry, I love that you have the Neanderthal photo as your avatar!

        Your comment’s pretty good too. ;-)

  58. Joy says:

    The longevity of this debate is amazing! We’ve been arguing this one for more than two years. That fact alone is probably more interesting than any of what we have actually had to say on the subject.

    But that won’t stop me from adding yet more to the topic! ;-)

    Edward, I hate to break it to you, but using plural verb forms for institutions (as in “Microsoft are bringing out a new version of Windows”) is NOT an Americanism! I don’t know where it originated, but I have never encountered it in anything but British English.

    KA, no one is trying to impose any language rules on you! We all speak different variants of English. As you have surely observed, language changes, sometimes with modest modifications like the different between American, British, Indian, Kenyan, and other versions of English, and sometimes over time with major changes like the formation of English in the first place from Anglo-Saxon, various Nordic and Germanic languages, French, and whatever else. Neither a dictionary nor someone codifying grammar rules will prevent that, nor will they bring it about; both merely describe the language based on what can be observed about its actual use. If you prefer to avoid adopting modifications to the language that are used by other groups of users, then don’t – but there’s no need to insult anyone because they use the language differently from you.

    (Myself, I sometimes love adopting other uses – I hear in my head, with delight, myself saying “oh brilliant” in all kinds of contexts, with a good upper-class Indian accent! But I would never consider saying “Microsoft are …” – that British usage is too weird for me to adopt. As is referring to a highway as “the M1″ or “the A-22″ instead of saying simply “take M1 to A-22″ – I think that is also a British usage.)

    And to wrap up yet another tirade – Barrie, LOL!

  59. Joy, we talk of headless chickens here in the UK, too. Or at least in my little bit of Sussex. I’ve never heard anyone say “like a chicken with its head cut off” – it’s always “like a headless chicken”.

    I’m enjoying your patient and informed responses. Not at all like a headless chicken, you.

  60. […] phrase elicits strong reactions, though, as can be seen in the comments to my post on different from/than/to, where debate over these phrases’ relative distribution and acceptability periodically […]

  61. […] own merits and nuances. We’ll lay out the bare bones here, but if you’re after a more detailed and fiery argument, you may also like to read writer and editor Stan Carey’s explanation. […]

  62. FB says:

    Hello,

    For years, I have been irritated by people who write “different from”. To say nothing of “different to” which I would have thought was limited to some rather obscure dialects.

    So, this afternoon, on reading yet again “different from”, I thought it best to study the subject. Was my English odd, were all these people writing “different from” justified in doing so? What did the experts think?

    What a surprise. A number of people from England apparently think “from” is not only the correct form, but the unique correct form. And that “than” is wrong, ridiculous and revolting.

    I do not find that approach very helpful. Shades of the Académie Française.

    To my mind, saying that A is different than B is to compare the two and to find that they are not the same. Does it matter whether there is a degree of difference (larger than, faster than) ? I think not. There is still a comparison, in which case “than” is applicable. (Similar to the Dutch, as someone above pointed out.)

    To say nothing of the fact that “different from” sounds like a poor translation of the French.

    So, to conclude, I will no longer cringe at “different from” and will continue to write “different than”.

    FB

    • KA Spencer says:

      I had considered that I would not write any more into this thread. However, I feel an urge to respond to the more recent entries, even at the risk of some repetition, as some of the points made in recent posts have been made and agreed with or disagreed with previously.

      Terry: Language does matter – that is why all countries invest money in educating their populations in their languages. Using language correctly, indicates a precision of thought, and assists in precision of expression. That is why I care. But we need not be quite so rude to each other. (By the way my name is Spencer, not Spence, and I am not yours – I am already married!)

      FB: I was pleased that Barac Obama used “different from” in his speech today, so even in the USA all is not lost. In reply to your post, but not wishing to labour the point, the use of the word “than” implies a comparison in degree, as with “greater than”. “Different” is a word implying an absolute without degree.
      And the reason why “from” is preferred to “to” is because “different” implies separation, whereas “similar” implies closeness, hence “different from” and “similar to”. Incidentally, if you could think of a use of “different” such that it does imply degree, then “than” might be appropriate.

      Thanks

      KA Spencer

      • Joy says:

        Well, I can’t resist – I would hope that such a stickler for what you perceive as correct English would at least spell the name of the president of the US correctly!

      • KA Spencer says:

        Joy: many apologies for that slip of the keyboard: if I could edit the post to read “Barack” I would. My embarrassment is severe!

        Stan: Ah, Stan, you have hit the nail on the head: there are no comparative adjectival forms for the word “different”. It is indeed absolute. Being different is a state of not being the same, with no implied degree.
        There is no “differenter” or “differentest”. Consider “great”, “greater”, and “greatest”. If one wishes to describe a degree of difference, then one must use an adjective with a comparative form, and use the noun-form “difference”, rather then the adjectival “different”. Thus “a greater difference”, or “the greatest difference”.
        I rest my case, though I may not yet have the clarity to persuade you!

        KA Spencer

  63. Stan says:

    FB: Hello, and thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. I hope the discussion here served to reduce your irritation at different from. After all, since it’s the most popular form of the three that are in common use, you’re likely to encounter it quite often.

    KA: Different does not imply “an absolute without degree”. To use an immediate example: the opinions people have expressed about the use of different are different from one another, but they are not absolutely different: there are shades of difference. Also, arguments against different than based on “logic” seem better suited to Lojban than English.

    • KA Spencer says:

      Stan: Ah, Stan, you have hit the nail on the head: there are no comparative adjectival forms for the word “different”. It is indeed absolute. Being different is a state of not being the same, with no implied degree. There is no “differenter” or “differentest”.

      Consider “great”, “greater”, and “greatest”. If one wishes to describe a degree of difference, then one must use an adjective with a comparative form, and use the noun-form “difference”, rather then the adjectival “different”. Thus “a greater difference”, or “the greatest difference”.

      I rest my case, though I may not yet have the clarity to persuade you!

      KA Spencer

      • Stan says:

        William James once wrote, “There are no differences but differences of degree between different degrees of difference and no difference.” Mind you, he was under the effects of nitrous oxide at the time.

      • KA Spencer says:

        Maybe that’s a good point at which to get this thread closed before we all have to resort to nitrous oxide!

        Ken

  64. FB says:

    Hello Stan,

    If the British think “different from” is one of the correct forms, then so be it.

    I was, however, surprised to find that what I considered an oddity was considered the unique correct form by others.

    I am for diversity as long as expressiveness is not lost and this (i.e. from/than) strikes me as being a perfect example of meaning remaining crystal clear in either case.

    Regards,
    FB

  65. […] have trodden this path before me, and I need do little more than refer readers to Stan Carey’s comprehensive post on different from, different than and different to, and to Mark Liberman’s additional analysis of the corpus evidence […]

  66. […] see using different than rather than different from an error; others don’t even know there is a usage issue with that […]

  67. dw says:

    My God: this comment thread is causing me to lose faith in humanity. Please tell me that “KA Spencer” and “edwardpaulcampbell” are parodies and not real people!

    • Comment from youtube ‘seywhut2985′ (1 week ago), regarding ‘Living Voice, the world’s most expensive loudspeakers’ – the’re not:

      http://www.bornrich.com/hart-audio-introduces-worlds-expensive-speakers-3-million.html

      “People forget that it’s not the speakers that phenomenal. It’s the tube amp. That’s the single most important factor. And a good cartridge on the turntable. In the late 50′s and early 60′s the sound quality from a nice tube amp and high end turntable was just as good. It would literally run you out of the room. The dynamics of analog recording are far superior than digital. And tube analog recording and playback is far superior than solid state”.

      (I rest my case…)

  68. KA Spencer says:

    There is no need to be quite so close to abusive, DW.
    Ken. (A real person)

  69. E P Campbell says:

    Dear ‘dw’, thank you for your comment. It has been noted. However, I would prefer to be known as a ‘paradox’ rather than a creator of ‘parody’ but hey, “any publicity is good publicity”, as Oscar Wilde put it (in paraphrase), along with, “The only thing worse than being talked about is Not being talked about” – have a nice day, y’all.=)

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