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Different From vs. Different Than

Different from is the standard phrase. Most scholars obstinately avoid different than, especially in simple comparisons, such as You are different from me.

However, some of the experts are more tolerant of different than, pointing out that the phrase has been in use for centuries, and has been written by numerous accomplished authors. These more-liberal linguists point out that a sentence like It is no different for men than it is for women is clear and concise, and rewriting it with different from could result in a clumsy clunker like It is no different for men from the way it is for women.

They may have a point, but many fine writers have had no problem steering clear of different than for their entire careers.

Posted on Friday, July 6, 2007, at 2:46 pm


97 Comments

97 Responses to “Different From vs. Different Than

  1. Geoffrey Lukens says:

    Hi!

    I’m not trying to be difficult, but…I hereby take exception to the notion floated here, that the expressions DIFFERENT FROM and DIFFERENT THAN have, seemingly, been on an equal grammatical footing for nearly three hundred years!??!

    Wow, where have I been? [Rhetorical question]

    This controversy between THAN and FROM (as prepositions) when used with the verb TO DIFFER, or the adjective DIFFERENT, seems to be one which has, is, and perhaps will, ultimately, result in accomodation of bad, or lazy grammar. It’s yet another instance of the Decline of Our Language, the Dumbing-down of primary schooling.

    I hear (presumably), otherwise well-educated, well-spoken people, in public, making this mistake. It’s a pretty gross mistake. On one hand, when the uneducated speak in this way, it’s one thing. It’s forgivable, even though one would like to explain, and disabuse them of their error. On the other hand, public figures, whether it’s our President, or a respected news-anchor, should be responsible enough to check themselves and what they utter, before they go public. Or, have we come to expect and accept such colloquial expressions from our role models?

    DIFFER takes the preposition FROM (exclusively), for the simple and logical reason that, as the verb TO DIFFER implies, it sets apart by EXCLUSION rather than BY DEGREE of COMPARISON. As in – This is different from that. When something differs, it implies another, FROM WHICH it is distinguished.

    The fundamental question: How does something, be it a state of being, a quality, a quantity, an action,…DIFFER FROM another thing? Answer, COMPARITIVELY, by contrast. The contrast is either by degree, or by total exclusion; if one thing is excluded (outside the set which includes another) FROM, it is DIFFERENT. The preposition THAN is used with GREATER or LESS; the preposition FROM is used with DIFFERENT.

    That’s how I see it.
    The lazy speaker does not want to expend the effort to construct the requisite clause to follow, FROM [THAT WHICH, the other]… etc.

    If we tried this little litmus test in most other languages, we’d probably get the same results. It’s beyond the scope of my immediate reply to attempt that. I think I would/could prove my premise, but I’ll let it go for now.

    Different THAN is colloquial, which is, strictly speaking, not correct. It may be “Acceptable, accomodated,” but not right; it is lazy usage of grammar.

    Your thoughts?
    Thank you,
    Geoff

    • BIL says:

      Agree totally!! Too lazy to speak and write correctly.

    • Anon says:

      Audacious of you to claim language decay when you are not speaking Old High German, but rather English. Re-write your post to sound more like Beowulf (Saxon) and then you might have some credence when you condemn language change.

      • doc says:

        Dear Sir/Madam,
        You are a very, very funny person. Your comment about Geoffrey Lukens’ audacity has had me in stictches all morning. How dare he rebuke users of modern English in anything other than Old High German? If you are not a professional writer, you should be. I very much want to share your conversation with others but I don’t know how well it’ll land with my idiot, facebook friends.

    • Pam says:

      Thank you so very much, Geoff. Seeing “different than” written in publications or spoken by (supposedly) educated people is a major pet peeve of mine. I majored in English in college and taught English grammar for several years and am undoubtedly more sensitive to this common grammatical error than others, I admit, but when “different than” appears in scholarly publications, a manuscript, or is used in a formal speech, I cringe.

      • Jeff Johnson says:

        While you’re right to slow down and examine things, remember that language changes. The author of the original post is correct in observing that the phrases have been interchangeable for quite some time now.

        Ain’t wasn’t a word, until it was. Language and grammar have always evolved.

        • Jane says:

          Yes, language and grammar continually evolve. While the word ain’t has a long history, it is now considered nonstandard.

        • David says:

          Jeff, you’re correct that language changes, but the adoption of “different than” to replace “different from” goes well beyond the simple evolution of vocabulary, such as accepting the word “ain’t” into common usage. Using “different than” when you mean “different from” ignores the underlying and fundamental grammatical logic that Geoff has so astutely laid out. The two phrases are, and must remain, distinct from each other inasmuch as a speaker or writer may variously need to distinguish between two objects in comparative vs. exclusionary terms. In this sense, “than” must always be coupled with a comparative adjective, as in “more than”. For example, logically, you could say “A and B are both different from C, but A is more different than B”; however, it defies grammatical logic to say “A and B are different than C” because there is no comparison being made, only a statement of exclusion. I must agree with Geoff’s analysis 100%. While the original blogger may be correct that both have become accepted usage, this has arisen only through a very ugly rejection of fundamental grammatical logic. I entirely dispute the blogger’s examples of when “different than” is the acceptable choice over “different from”. You use “different than” if you’re making a comparison – for exclusion it should always be “different from”. People who care about language – and certainly professional writers and speakers – should never interchange the two.

          • Jane says:

            In February 2014, a new edition of the Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation will be issued. The “Different From, Different Than” entry in the “Confusing Words and Homonyms” chapter (as well as on the GrammarBook.com website) will be revised to read as follows:

            Different from is the standard phrase. Traditionalists obstinately avoid different than, especially in simple comparisons, such as You are different from me.

            More-liberal linguists point out that a sentence like It is no different for men than it is for women is clear and concise, and rewriting it with different from could result in a clumsy clunker like It is no different for men from the way it is for women.

            They may have a point, but many fine writers have had no problem steering clear of different than for their entire careers.

          • Ed says:

            There’s also “Different to” but yes I agree with Geoff, and you. Which is why things like this bothers me: http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/words/different-from-than-or-to

            “No real justification”

    • Lennalf says:

      Dear Geoffrey Lukens,

      Per your request, my thoughts:
      1. CAPS are RUDE.
      2. Brevity is the soul of wit.
      3. Catch more flies with honey.

      Have a nice day!

    • Calvin says:

      Well said Geoffrey!

    • Heidi says:

      Geoffrey, you have perfectly articulated what I have tried to explain to my friends for ages! I think I’m in love with your brain.
      Thank you!

    • Kaitain says:

      Absolutely right, Geoff. Using “X than” applies to rank order comparatives. “Different” is essentially a scalar rather than a vector comparative: it has no direction. If you say “A is bigger than B”, swapping the order of A and B inverts the meaning. With “different” this is not the case. “Than” is completely wrong when used with “different”.

    • Mollie Hollar says:

      Although I did not read all 94 messages here I simply must comment. I too am horribly bothered by “different than” just as I am about so many grammatical errors.
      However, I believe most of you are missing a couple of important considerations.
      1. As my son says language changes. We have only to listen to or read speeches by famous Americans over the last 200 or so years to find proof of that. Unpleasant for those of us who are purists but inevitable. It will continue to happen.
      2. Read some Shakespeare, folks. Notice any difference from our language today? The main reason for that of course is that he wrote in English and our language here in the U.S. is American, which is a conglomeration of just about every language in the world.
      I could go on but I hadn’t intended to write this much. It’s difficult to climb down from my soap box.

  2. Shelley says:

    I agree with and thank Geoff for that very clear description of the distinction. The use of “from” for different and “than” for comparative is a clear and easy way to understand the DIFFERENCE.

    Thanks for your post!

    • Ed E says:

      As a product of 12 years of Catholic school nuns, I was taught a very simple way to handle this:

      The nuns say, “Different FROM, Different FROM,
      Different THAN is ALWAYS WRONG!”

      Than is a comparative used to measure quantative terms such as bigger than or taller than, etc. I agree we have gotten very lazy with our written and spoken word. It seems there is little we purists can do to stop the momentum.

  3. James says:

    I’m afraid I think Geoff is very badly wrong about this. As you say, “different than” has been in use all over the English world for hundreds of years. Maybe (I just don’t know the history) it was once non-standard, but surely 300 years is enough to make it acceptable now! As the OED notes,

    The construction with than (after other than), is found in Fuller, Addison, Steele, De Foe, Richardson, Goldsmith, Miss Burney, Coleridge, Southey, De Quincey, Carlyle, Thackeray, Newman, Trench, and Dasent, among others

    More important: the word “than” is definitely not a preposition. It is a conjunction. To call it a preposition is just incorrect (not a matter of taste, style, etc.)!

    • David says:

      You’re right that “than” is a conjunction. “From”, however, is a preposition, which is exactly why “different from” is correct and “different than” is not. Just because the latter phrase has been used for 300 years, doesn’t make it grammatically logical. It can be and is used in colloquial writing and speaking, but for formal writing and speaking one should always use “different from” to indicate the exclusion of one thing from another. People commonly say “I could care less” when what they actually mean is “I could not care less” – while the former usage is colloquially acceptable, it is not formally acceptable because it is grammatically illogical. It is the same with using “different than” when you mean “different from”. You can’t replace the function of a preposition with that of a conjunction – no matter how many centuries you try to sell it to the masses. Consensus does not override structural logic – just as one cannot arbitrarily change the laws of physics, one also cannot arbitrarily change the rudiments of grammatical logic. “From” and “than” are preposition and conjunction, respectively – they are functionally 100% distinct from each other and cannot logically be interchanged, no matter how many centuries people continue to use them incorrectly.

      • Becky says:

        I take issue with a comparison between the “laws” of grammar and the laws of physics. Grammar is manmade and evolves through use (or “misuse”). The laws of physics don’t change, they are perhaps only redefined as they are better understood.

        Grammar does not have to be logical and often does change with a consensus (whether we like it or not). Regarding logic in language, the double negative, for example, is not accepted as correct in English, but it is the standard in Spanish and Portuguese (and perhaps other languages), as in, “He never does nothing,” (“Ele nunca faz nada”).

        I agree with you in sentiment–that logic should be followed–but that doesn’t mean it always is. One could argue it, but it would be hard to defend.

        • Jane says:

          Thank you for writing, Becky. We would like to briefly comment on James saying that a misuse which has been around a long time ceases to be a mistake. This is not always the case, of course. How many decades (centuries?) has lay-lie been getting mangled, but still we maintain the correct usages? Also, it simply is not true that than isn’t and can never be a preposition. It sometimes is, as in this sentence: “He is a man than whom few are braver.”

  4. Joe says:

    From the OED:
    than – sometimes after adjectives or adverbs of similar meaning to ‘other’, as ‘different’ ‘diverse’ ‘opposite’, and after Latin comparatives, as ‘inferior’ ‘junior: usually with clause following.
    Now mostly avoided.

  5. Torpedo Jack says:

    Mr. Lukens would make a stronger argument if he spelled accommodate correctly (2x), was aware that president is just a job description requiring no capitalization, and that news anchor is best without the conjured hyphen. Also, shoring up sloppy punctuation would be a plus (“I hear, otherwise well-educated…”).

  6. Connie says:

    I agree with Geoff and quite love his well-written statement about the use of “from” vs “than” after “different”. On the other hand, James may have a point that “than” is a conjunction–perhaps as in “Going to the ball game is different THAN going to the opera.” Could James quote us the usage exactly by his string of quotable personages? I’d love to learn more about how this has been used for some 300 years because I too am under the impression that this claim is not precise.

  7. Kim says:

    In another web site discussing this very issue, someone postulated that “than” versus “from”, when used in the context of comparison (which is *always* the context for the word different) would parallel their use in math:

    > greater than
    < less that
    = equal to
    not equal to, or different from

    This is how we say things when we want to be precise. Using than in the last line instead of from just confuses the to and form parallelism. It not only grates on the ear, it seems lazy … a lack of precision.

    My point being that I feel this way when I looks at the examples that suggest the use of “than” … they feel contrived, because using “differently” in those contexts feels lazy and uninformative.

    For example: That is preferred for #4, which is written awkwardly as:

    4. Chopsticks are very different to hold from/than a fork and knife are.

    I would prefer a more elegant statement using different to read this way:

    Chopsticks are held differently from the knife and fork.

    But than would work if we get into a real comparison, where degree is expressed:

    Chopsticks are *harder* to hold than the knife and fork.

    And that perfectly parallels how the words work in math.

    “Than” is also preferred for #5:

    5. He treated me differently from/than I would have expected.

    Again, my choices are:

    I would have expected him to treat me differently.

    OR

    He treated me much better (much worse) than I would have expected.

    Thinking in terms of general comparison versus degree pretty much straightens it all out for me.

    • Jane says:

      These are good points. Thank you for your comments.

      • Deb says:

        My mother told me that things in life are not “hard” they are “difficult”….. I don’t know about whether it is correct, but does sound better.

        • Jane says:

          The American Heritage Dictionary includes the following definition and example for the word hard: “Difficult to endure; causing hardship or suffering: a hard life.” Therefore, either word is grammatically correct. (It could be that your mother was taught this distinction in school by a teacher who held a strict line of interpretation of these words in his or her day.)

  8. stacy says:

    Different from vs. different than ,when used incorrectly hurts my ears. But not so much as the seemingly now acceptable “bring vs. take”. My biggest grammar pet peeve of all time. Not many of us left who know how to use the english language correctly. My Mother, (God rest her soul) I’m sure, turns over in her grave each time our Commander in Chief says “figger” rather than figure and “ta” rather than to, as in, “we must figger out a way ta reduce the budget deficet”. Drives me CRAZY, I tell you, just crazy!

    • Colin says:

      Surely ‘figger’ is a literal description of how one says the word ‘figure’. I’ve never heard it pronounced any other way in the UK where I come from. I generally use ‘different from’, though my instinctive answers to the quiz above were all correct! So, as the americans say ‘go figure’!

  9. Ricky says:

    @Torpedo

    Actually, the President is not just a job description. If one were talking about a president of an organization or club, it would not be capitalized. However, the President of the United States of America, according to AP Style, is capitalized when referenced as “the President.” In the context of American media, when one uses “President” as a proper noun, it is understood clearly it is referring to Barack Obama. But “president” could be any number of people.

    AP Style, Chicago Manual of Style and The Elements of Style all favor “different from” over “different than.” So in context of anywhere you might want to get published professionally in the U.S., it would be a better idea to use “different from” if you are not sure.

  10. Alana says:

    Thanks for the post and comments — I have better understanding now of the reasoning behind the usage of “different from/than.” I want to point out one thing (rather off-topic) from the original post, though.

    Your first example is written as, “New Orleans natives’ speech is different from that of New York natives’ speech.”

    I believe the words “that of” are used incorrectly here. “That of” should be used INSTEAD of the repetition of “speech” (and the possessive apostrophe preceding the noun). It could be worded as:

    “New Orleans natives’ speech is different from New York natives’ speech.”
    “New Orleans natives’ speech is different from that of New York natives.”

  11. Ed Crane says:

    I think this may be less complicated than we think. It depends on what you consider to be a well-written sentence and what exactly it is you’re trying to say.

    “Than” in the following sentence works, as a verb is implied and omitted [in brackets].

    “People in New Orleans speak differently than people in New York [speak].”
    – If you don’t omit the verb and use “from”, it would be incorrect and come across as such to the reader or listener.
    – If you omit the verb, using “from” in this sentence may pass various litmus tests but technically woud be incorrect.

    “From” works in the sense that something “differs from” something else e.g. “I differ from my colleagues on this point.”

    “A New Orleans accent (differs from / is different from) a New York accent”

    – “Differs than” is (and sounds) incorrect.
    – “…is different than” is also incorrect, but would probably be acceptable to most readers / listeners.

    I think the first sentence, using “than”, is more concise, and clearer.

    • Jane says:

      As mentioned at the beginning of the lesson, the expressions different from and different than have been used almost interchangeably for at least 300 years. That is why I am approaching this lesson from the angle of what is preferred rather than a strict correct vs incorrect argument.

  12. Ed Crane says:

    I realize this throws a wrench into the answers to the quiz…but based on my theory, I would answer as follows (with my reasoning in brackets)

    1. This dress is different from the one in the catalog [one "differs from" the other]
    2. How is this salad dressing different than last night’s dressing [was]? [omitted verb].
    3. His moustache made him look different than his brothers [look]. [omitted verb].
    4. Chopsticks are very different to hold than a fork and knife are. [verb is not omitted!]
    5. He treated me differently than I would have expected [to be treated][omitted verb].
    6. He treated me differently than what I would have expected [same reason as preceding. I think this should read "he treated me differently than how I expected.]

  13. Ed says:

    I totally agree with Geoff Lukens.

  14. Dave says:

    I agree with Geoff as well, but here’s the peace, um, to which I’ve come. In the course of work, I review a lot of documents. Some of these really matter a lot, others much less so. If the document is super important (e.g., a Supreme Court brief), I will correct “than” to “from” even if it’s the only change I make. Otherwise I make the change only if I’m making other changes. I see this error ALL the time, and from VERY well-educated people. It’s a bit like the use of “impact” as a verb. I’ve pretty much given up correcting others for “errors” such as these. The cost of pedantry can actually be quite high in the real world. I will try to be correct in what I say and write, but for the most part I’ve given up trying to hold back the tide when it comes to others.
    Also, fwiw, my Webster’s says “than” is both a conjunction and a preposition, the latter when used in the sense of “in comparison with.”

    • Erik says:

      “The cost of pedantry can actually be quite high in the real world.” I would like to post this on my office door.

  15. Nancie says:

    Say, FYI, if you are taking standardized tests like the GMAT or SAT, “different from” is always used when comapring two nouns and “different than” is used when comparing a noun with a clause.

  16. Rose says:

    Than is used when comparing. “He is taller than I thought he would be.”
    How can you compare degrees of difference? “He is differenter than I thought he would be.”

    • Jane says:

      While either “He is more different than I thought he would be” or “He is more different from what I thought he would be” are grammatically correct, these are odd sentences that are hard to imagine anyone actually saying or writing because they don’t indicate in what way the person is different. I might imagine someone saying something like, “He looks more different from his high school yearbook picture than what I expected.”

  17. Chris Miller says:

    There is nothing more delightful than seeing grammar teachers argue with the unlettered or among themselves. This question also made it to sites like yahoo questions where the unlettered gave their opinions on it. Woe to society where grammar has become a matter of opinion. Let us ever stand against it on the little sites like these that readers of yahoo will never visit.

    So everyone agrees that just because different from and differently than have been used interchangeably, this means that their meanings are the same but where you use them acceptably is not the same. The first is used correctly in a phrase and the second in a clause. That is how I have taught it for lo these many years, and how I remember it today.

    But to Jane I wish to add the rule that is applied by the writing teacher in me when the grammar teacher steps aside. When you have a sentence this awkward, just reword it.
    “My heavens! This is his high school yearbook picture. He has really changed–and definitely for the better” for example.

  18. Margie says:

    After reading the postings I feel vindicated!
    I have been accutely aware for years how often “than” has been spoken in discourse or written in books when “from” would have been the correct choice.
    “…. is different than….” drives me nuts.
    Another grammitical pet peeve is using “that” instead of “who” or “whom”. ex. Mary is the one that came in late. Also: “gunna” for “going to”.

  19. Margie says:

    Oooops! What a site to misspell a word: Should be “grammatical” Goes to show one should proofread before submitting!!

  20. BIL says:

    I do nat agree that different from and differnt than have been used interchangably for the past 300 years. Different than is a gramatical error common in certain parts of th US. and the lack of attention to correct grammar seems to be growing.Formal English demands that the term “than” be used when measurable comparisons are made….. better than, taller than, smaller than, faster than….. however when notations are made “from ” is used. Your biology text book is different “from” mine, but mine is heavier “than” yours. The white paint you bought is different “from” what I have …. but the white paint you bought is whiter “than” what I have.

    • Jane says:

      The leading grammar authorities and resources differ greatly on this topic. The information I cited is from dictionary.com which is based on The Random House Dictionary.

  21. Warwick says:

    One essential difference between these two words is that “from” is a preposition while “than” is a conjunction.

    The preposition, “from”, indicates a “going away”, in contrast with the preposition “to”, which indicates a “going towards.”

    “Millions of people came to America after the second world war; they came from all corners of the world.”

    “Dogs are very different from cats.” In this sentence one is concerned with placing dogs “away” from cats. And also, “from,” as a preposition, shows the object that this word “different” applies to and how it applies.

    “Than” is a conjunction and joins two clauses. “Than” places one thing “alongside” another for purposes of comparison, rather than moving that thing away, as “from” does.

    Dogs are very much easier to teach than cats.

    “Than” places dogs alongside cats and compares them.
    “Than” joins the first clause, “Dogs are very much easier to teach” with the second clause “cats (are)” (the “are” is understood.)

    What about those who say that you can use “than” after “from”, when you are diferentiating a noun from a clause?

    Here’s an example; “When you train cats you use very different methods than dog trainers use.”
    To be blunt, a sentence such as this demonstrates that the one who framed it has a tin ear for language and doesn’t understand the flow of meaning that words are designed to convey.

    Someone with the simplest grasp of the meanings of words and the way they connect to each other (that’s otherwise known as grammar)would see that someone proficient with language would write; “When you train cats you use very different methods from (those) which dog trainers use.” “From” is the preposition and “those,” which should be included, is the object.

    OK, you say that “than” is a conjunction that joins clauses; what about a simple case: “I’ve seen your attempts at training cats; you’ll have to do better than that.”
    Simple, just include the verb that is understood and then you have “better than that (is.)”

    You will not understand the way these words can best be used by trying to memorize rules. You have to become clear in your mind about the meaning of the words and the way they connect with each other.

    Finally, do I think that I know more than the people who compile the dictionaries and the rules of English (know?)

    I am less politically correct than the folk who compile dictionaries and rule books; they are slaves to the idea that “the people know best and usage determines meaning, so that if most people use a word in a particular way then that’s how it ought to be used.”

    That’s rubbish. If you look at the meanings that words are meant to convey then you can see that very often most people do not understand those meanings and the way that words connect with each other, and they make stupid mistakes that reflect this misunderstanding. Most people write “This begs the question” when it would be much truer to the meanings of words to write, “This raises the question.” It is silly to say, “The language is changing and we just have to accept it.” Some changes introduce new and helpful and colourful meanings and expressions and other changes are just a dumbing down of the language that makes it uglier and less expressive. And furthermore, many changes are an attempt to use fancy, and misunderstood, expressions when the plain and everyday expressions are much better. “This begs the question” except when it is used in the context of narrow, logical discussion, is one of those changes.

  22. Victor says:

    “different from” should be the recommended usage; “different than” should be exceptional. The argument that an error that has been around for three hundred years is not an error is a weak one. In 1633 John Ford makes a priest say “[…] for better’tis to blesse the sunne then reason why it shines”; he writes “then” for “than” in many other places in the same work. That there are examples of “then” used for “than” four hundred years ago does not make the usage correct today.

    • Carl says:

      John Ford was correct to use “then,” which meant “than” to express a preference for one action as opposed to another action.

      Greater than, Better than, More than….
      as opposed to
      Different from…

  23. Erin says:

    Use from or than, whichever comes naturally.

    Languages change over time. Prescriptivism to this extent makes me feel queasy, and scrolling through the comments here showed me quite a lot of it.

  24. Sunbirdwoman says:

    Goodness, people, just chill out! Languages have been evolving since, well, languages began. (Otherwise, what WOULD we be speaking now?) Why don’t you just relax about it? Just because other people aren’t using “your” language the way “you” were taught to use it doesn’t mean that they’re using it “incorrectly”. Language isn’t like mathematics, you know, where, if the problem is stated correctly, there is only right answer, or one set of right answers. In fact, one of the strengths of the English language, and one of the main reasons so many people on this planet want to learn it now, is that there are so many different ways to express the same idea and still make oneself understood. English has always been a haphazard, make-it-up-as-you-go-along sort of cant, full of odd grammatical structures are slang, largely because it’s the bastard offspring of many other tongues, most of which were far more prescriptive. The only time anyone’s really cared about English grammar, or its spelling, for that matter, has been when certain segments of society have attempted to use it as a tool for social differentiation and dominance. Really, if the “improper” use of “different from” and “different than” bothers you so much, I think that you might want to investigate anti-anxiety medications, because English will change in even more startling ways before long. It is spreading around the globe, and as it has done so many times before, it is changing and growing every time it encounters another linguistic source. Check out Indian English, African English, “Spanglish”, Caribbean English, and the new, burgeoning Asian English! You are now part of a huge, diverse community of English speakers. Fussing over minor details of grammar is as absurd as refusing to accept your new neighbors because they grow petunias and you prefer geraniums. Just relax and enjoy!

  25. Sunbirdwoman says:

    “… odd grammatical structures *and* slang, …”

  26. So sad says:

    I don’t think it’s an issue of ‘change’ really. People are just following the trends of the uneducated (many celebrities). It catches on and spreads like wild fire. It hurts my ears… reporters, government officials, educators… those that should be the leaders and not followers. I constantly tell my kids- different from, more, less, bigger or smaller than. I explain the difference and use. It’s hard though because that’s how their educators speak, other parents and subsequently their friends. I do my best. Likewise with with the bring and take…. I could go on and on. Education is certainly not where it used to be….. Words are introduced and vocabulary increases but grammar is just grammar. I am in agreement with Geoffery it’s just laziness.

  27. Asmith4 says:

    Language is destined to change through constant and repeated usage. It will be what it will be; what it evolves into over time; how people use it and what they mean when they do; how others understand what is said. I also take great exception to the condescending references to the “ignorant” or “unlettered” or “uneducated” people who don’t (Oh My GOD! A contraction!) know the proper distinction between the two. Most of us have no trouble understanding what they are saying. You purists remind me of my elementary school teachers, mired in the same mud as you. I understand what you are trying to do, but accept the fact that languages evolve.

    Chaucer:
    Freres and feendes been but lyte asonder. Friars and fiends are seldom far apart.

    Alan

  28. Asmith4 says:

    OK now let’s talk about the difference between “bring” and “take”, should be pretty simple, but most people outside the Southern US do not seem to understand.

    Bring: come with to a certain point
    Take: go with to a certain point

    Why don’t people get this?

    If I am at point A along with object Y why would I ask someone to “bring” object Y to point Z? I am not at point Z so what good would it do me for them to “bring” it there? Why not “take” it there?

    Alan

  29. Grammar Scold says:

    The author’s examples below illustrate exactly why using proper grammar is so important and how incorrect, lazy and ambiguous using the phrase “different than” can be.

    In the first three examples, the author correctly uses the word “from”, and the reason it works is because each sentence compares two objects from like classes.

    1. This dress is different from the one in the catalog. (comparing two dresses).
    2. How is this salad dressing different from last night’s dressing? (comparing two salad dressings)
    3. His moustache made him look different from his brothers. (comparing brothers).

    The author uses “than” in the last three sentences because it sounds correct, but does so only because the sentences are ambiguous. Readers could interpret the sentences in different ways and to compare objects or phrases of different classes.

    4. Chopsticks are very different to hold than a fork and knife are. [“Than”works here only because of a lot of missing language in what is a colloquial, spoken style. Does the sentence compare chopsticks to knives and forks or does it compare the way one holds utensils of different sorts? The sentence is unclear about that and the locuion “different to hold” is the root of the problem, and another stylistic or grammatical error. One would say “Chopsticks are different FROM knives and forks,” OR “Holding chopsticks is different from holding knives and forks.” But the original sentence confounds the utensils with the methods for holding them so “different than” sounds correct in that sentence only because of incompletely specifying what two objects or actions it is comparing.

    5. He treated me differently than I would have expected. Similar to the “chopstick” example. [This sentence is comparing two actions from different classes, so “than” sounds correct only because of an idea that it expresses incompletely. As written, the sentence is comparing “treated” to “would have expected” which are actions of unlike classes. The full thought is: “He treated me differently FROM THE WAY THAT I would have expected.” This fully expressed sentence now compares two objects from the same class — ways of being treated. And in this fuller sentence, using “different from” is clearly correct.

    6. He treated me differently from what I would have expected. [Notice how this sentence differs from sentence 5. It correctly compares treatment in the subject clause to “what” in the object clause rather than to “I would have expected.” Sentence 6 is a complete thought, so “from” sounds correct, and is. Sentence 5 is a lazily abridged sentence, so “than” sounds correct but only because it compounds the error of omitting “what” or “the way that”.

    O.K., O.K. I get it that all of these sentences are clear either way. But they are simple examples. In only slightly more complex sentences, the ambiguities would be much more difficult to parse. In such cases, using the proper “different from” would help writers to express themselves clearly by forcing them to compare the objects of like class that they intend to compare.

    Good writing and speaking should evolve over time; but their main purpose — expressing ideas CLEARLY is an unchanging objective. Write ambiguously if you wish, but to be clear, write grammatically.

  30. Evelyn says:

    Thanks, everyone, for your input here. I have always tried to stress to friends and fellow writers the difference between “different from” and “better than”. I found this site very helpful. I feel vindicated. I understand that people speak more informally than they write, but it is important to follow the rules of grammar when writing formally to keep our language and its clarity alive.

  31. Paul E. Schoen says:

    I enjoyed reading the original explanations as well as the subsequent discussion. It has been only recently that I realized my erroneous use of “different than”, perhaps because I saw it elsewhere and in one of the more obvious incorrect contexts. I take pride in writing properly, although sometimes I am not sure of the proper wording, and in such cases I often find that the entire sentence needs to be rewritten.

    I like the statement, “Bad grammar is something up with which I shall not put”!

    And I recently saw a sign that said, “Past, present, and future walked into a bar, and they were tense”…

  32. guest says:

    thank you for the education, i knew something sounded wrong when i said different than, and now i know why. I will never make that mistake again!

  33. Carl says:

    I’m afraid that this battle has been lost.

    “From” was once used widely to describe a qualitive distinction, and “than” was used to describe a quantitative distinction a/k/a comparison e.g. “different from” vs. “greater than.”

    This has not been universal throughout the Anglosphere e.g. I have heard Englishmen and Australians use the word “to” in place of “from.’

    At this point in this country, however, “than” has become almost universal, despite the logical loss.

  34. Dub Campbell says:

    The from/than argument shouldn’t even be an argument at all.
    I accept that language changes and often evolves but for
    people who supposedly appreciate our language, teach it,
    broadcast it in an official capacity or care to be understood
    thoroughly, it only makes sense to learn some basic rules
    and follow some structured guidelines in order to communicate
    verbally in any setting.
    Pop culture may have an entirely ‘devolved’ language that
    works very well for those who use that particular dialect…
    and there’s nothing wrong with that. But for an English teacher,
    a person who speaks publicly in an official capacity
    or a news anchor on our local, national and, in particular, an
    individual who desires to communicate clearly with
    international people whose primary language is not
    English, for example, it should be obvious that we should
    do our best to follow the same rules in speaking or
    writing ‘our’ language as those individuals who are still
    learning the basics of it.
    Saying that ‘this’ is different than ‘that’ is simply bad
    English. A small change in wording, however, makes
    the use of ‘than’ perfectly acceptable :
    “This is different”… much more different ‘than’ that one (is).

    Language barriers, especially on a global scale, are the main
    reason some countries’ leaders stoop to wars. They often
    have great difficulties because of seemingly simple
    misunderstandings between the languages… not the
    people themselves.

    Americans’ colloquial vocabulary can be very confusing
    to other Americans, so try to imagine how a foreigner may
    miss the point if you were to say something like:
    You ought to check out this ‘dope’ band downtown. They are
    bad, man! ‘ Or, we could just hang loose and chill out tonight.

    Maybe these visitors have a very savvy interpreter with them
    who is familiar with the slang used in a given area… but what
    are the chances of that?

    Something is always ‘different from’ something else.

    On the other hand,

    Something is also better, bigger, hotter, colder, meaner or
    friendlier ‘than’ something else.

    ‘Different’ sets things apart, giving to distance, ie separating
    this ‘from’ that.

    ‘Than’ compares this ‘with’ that (not from that).
    This is better, bigger, smaller ‘than’ that.

    When we’re just hangin’ and chillin’ amongst our friends
    these rules have little or no worth.
    But when we represent our work, our Country… When
    we announce the news on radio, TV or in print, it’s
    important to put our best foot forward and make
    our words mean exactly what we wish to convey. If
    we refuse to do that, we’re just asking for complete
    chaos among all of those who would otherwise
    respect our best efforts to communicate clearly.

    • Jane says:

      In February 2014, a new edition of the Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation will be issued. The “Different From, Different Than” entry in the “Confusing Words and Homonyms” chapter (as well as on the GrammarBook.com website) will be revised to read as follows:
      Different from is the standard phrase. Traditionalists obstinately avoid different than, especially in simple comparisons, such as You are different from me.
      More-liberal linguists point out that a sentence like It is no different for men than it is for women is clear and concise, and rewriting it with different from could result in a clumsy clunker like It is no different for men from the way it is for women.
      They may have a point, but many fine writers have had no problem steering clear of different than for their entire careers.

  35. Steve Wesselkamper says:

    I seem to share the view of many commenters that “different than” is generally discordant and should be avoided. I am particularly troubled by “different than” when it is used in electronic or print mass media or non-conversational (i.e. formal) public discourse.

    The February 7. 2014,Wall Street Journal reports on Coca Cola’s investment to promote home, counter-top Coke machines under the Keurig brand. Reporters Annie Gasparro and Mike Esterl write, “But soda is different than coffee.” Perhaps there was an editors holiday.

  36. Kent Pitman says:

    Language has always evolved, so an argument that amounts to “it used to be this way and must not be allowed to flex” is not one I find particularly compelling. Variant usages arise sometimes by accident, and sometimes by intent, but even those that arise by accident can be found to have value. To my ear, “differ from” has an active quality of a thing pushing away from another thing, and that focuses on the act of deviation. But to my ear “different from” grates because it refers after-the-fact to a distance between two objects at a time when the actor in the motion may not be apparent. If your position is not my position, then we may say that our positions are different, but saying that it is your position that differed from mine as mine remained fixed or that it is mine that differed from yours as yours remained fixed becomes difficult. Perhaps neither remained fixed. All we know now is that our positions differ, and for that reason I prefer to say one position is different than the other because it doesn’t suggest a from/to directionality. My position is not based on my knowledge of history or approved use, but on simple pragmatics. The use of “from” in this context suggests a fact not in evidence, and in the same way as the passive voice would hide the need to reveal a verb’s subject, the use of “than” hides the need to reveal who/what differed from who/what.

    • Griff Derryberry says:

      Regarding whose position was fixed while the other’s position was in motion, Albert Einstein said that there’s no absolute frame of reference (reference frame). I’m not sure how this helps with the from/than debate, but I thought that I’d throw in that.

  37. Stephen Coulson says:

    ” ‘It is no different for men than it is for women’ is clear and concise, and rewriting it with different from could result in a clumsy clunker like ‘It is no different for men from the way it is for women.’”

    The second is a clunker but the first is still wrong. The intent of ‘no different’ is to say that ‘It is the same for men and women’. You could use ‘or’ in place of ‘and’.
    To say the opposite you could say that ‘it is not the same for men and women’ which would be the same as saying it was different, but you would not say that ‘it is not the same for men than it is for women’.

    I think the problem here is that ‘no different’ is an idiomatic construction that means ‘not different’. On the other hand you may say that there is ‘no difference’.

    “It is not different for men than it is for women” is clearly (I think) wrong as is
    “There is no difference for men than there is for women”.

    Comparing should be simple. The rules are:
    Same as, more or less than, similar to, different from and the difference between.

    • We were playing devil’s advocate for this one instance of different than, trying to be fair, admitting it has pragmatic advantages sometimes. However, we conclude that it is best to steer clear of different than.

  38. Don Houston says:

    I think this discussion has failed to appreciate that ‘different’ has two meanings (that are different!).
    Imagine a picture of two dogs. One is white and one is black. The white dog is different from the black dog. That is, the PROPERTIES of the two dogs are not the same.
    Now imagine that you see a picture of a dog, and another picture of a dog that looks the same. If you knew that the dog in the second picture is not the same dog as the one in the first picture, you would say that the second dog is different than the first dog. That is, the IDENTITY of the dogs is not the same.

  39. Terrence O'Keeffe says:

    I’ve been through this whole slogging match and would like to make a few simple points. First, “different from” and “different than” may or may not offend the listener’s ear in any given case. That indicates that usage is a major determinant of correctness, as well as of semantics.

    Second,while dictionaries define “than” as a conjunction, which it normally is, if it works as a preposition in a specific phrase, then it becomes a preposition in that phrase. This should be obvious for the word “but”, which most of the time is used as a conjunction, but which becomes a preposition in phrases where it means “except” (e.g., “All but one returned.”) What excludes this from being true for “than” in the phrase “different than”? This (a word being used as more than one part of speech) can also be true of nouns that are turned into verbs. Though “impact” or “vector” as verbs offend my ear, I can see their semantic sense (that is, they say what they mean, their meaning is clear, and they are more economical than a longer phrase; maybe some day they will “sound OK” too). Obviously the English language has a long history of “back-formations” where nouns become verbs and vice-versa. (Example: “I toss the ball to Joe, and he says, ‘Nice toss, Harry’.”)

    Third, Geoff starts out with the questionable assumption that differences must be understood as exclusive, though they are often conceived in terms of degrees or of more than one quality. Which is why we can have “differences between” (two things), “differences among” (more than two things” and “several differences between” (two things) and “several differences among” (more than two things), and so on. The phrases make perfect sense, and they are usually used in a context where the specific differences are described, itemized, etc. By the way, opposites should never be called “mutually exclusive”, but rather “reciprocally exclusive”. If they were in fact mutually exclusive it would mean that each of them excludes a (same) third thing. “Categorically exclusive” is also misused in similar fashion, but we’ve all learned to live with such minor mangles, because we often understand what the speaker is getting at.

  40. Charles Myhill says:

    Americans love to use extra words in a sentence. I believe they think it adds gravitas. For example: “meet with” instead of meet. “At this time” instead of now… et al

    The sentence in question; “It is no different for men than it is for women..” could be better phrased as:

    “It is the same for men and women.” “There is no difference between men and women” “Men and women are treated no differently” and so on.

  41. Andrew Ola Asonibare says:

    I have followed this debate with interest. I don’t mean to sound like the umpire but I think most of the contributors hit it spot on. The problem is, there are so many spots to hit :) I’m still cracking up about the necessity of rebuking modern English speakers in Old High German. Fact is, at any point in time, language will always be in three stages (at least): evolving, extant and going extinct. Remember when ‘bad’ only meant the opposite of ‘good’? Actually you don’t because it started meaning other things since at least the 1850s. No, Michael Jackson didn’t start start the fire.

    “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” It is probably incorrect grammar and logic as of now to say ‘different than’ but if the users of language are gradually making it the new standard, then those trying to preserve ‘different from’ exclusively, would be like some folks I’ve known who insist that reading the Bible from an electronic device rather than from paper text are being sacrilegious. Language exists for us and not for language. It should be our tool, our clay. And as long as what I say is clear to you, then why can’t we all just get along?

    Thumbs up Griff Derryberry about Albert Einstein!

  42. Ava says:

    I must agree with those here who say that rules are more important in English Grammar than simply letting the lazy or uneducated corrupt the language. English grammar with rules does and should have high standards which separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak. But when you mingle those two, your eyes begin to cross.

    My eyes cross a lot with almost every conversation I have with a certain friend. Although she is among the upper-crust, she slaughters the English language. It’s just all too obvious that she probably skipped out on a lot of grammar classes when she was in school or she never had any classes at all. She says such things as, “I’ve went there already.” I wish I could think of other examples now. (I need to write them down as I hear them.) I guess I’d just say she’s a high-class lady who speaks like a commoner and I find myself cringing a lot when we converse.

    I’ve noticed for at least 20 years that otherwise supposedly well-educated folks just don’t know their grammar. I even see that happening a lot on the TV news, with people who should know better (they used to!). I’ve gotten it in my head that this is because either they don’t teach grammar any more in English classes, or the teachers were never taught to speak correctly, so they can’t teach it to others either. I really don’t know why this has happened, all I know is that it has happened, and it doesn’t make me happy.

    Which brings up a question I have. How do you deal with this when you’re with a friend that uses bad English? I don’t make it my mission to go around correcting the world, but I do tend to correct friends and family who keep making the same mistakes over and over. So how do the rest of you handle this? (Or in this day and age, would Prozac be the better option?) lol

  43. Ava says:

    Saying, “It is no different for men than it is for women” of course is correct. I don’t think that’s quite what we’re talking about here.

    Because you wouldn’t be caught dead saying, “It is no different for men from it is for women.”

    See what I’m saying?

    • The comments have taken a detour from the original example sentence. We do not think that any of the writers recommended writing “It is no different for men from it is for women.” They are using “different from” in a different context.

  44. Cathy says:

    The example “It is no different for men than it is for women.” is irrelevant to the argument since the adjective takes a different preposition THAN the verb. The example is on par with “It is harder for men than it is for women.”

  45. Jonathan says:

    Concerning “different from” vs. “different than”:

    “Back in the day”, all secondary school students were taught both grammar and how to diagram a sentence. Today, neither obtains. Why? Because the teachers weren’t and aren’t taught, either.

    “From” is a preposition; “than” is a conjunction. They are different from each other. “From” distinguishes; “than” compares.

    Salt and sugar are different from each other. But, you are younger, taller, thinner, or prettier than I.

    • Jonathan says:

      What contributes to creating this controversy is the term “no different” What is that supposed to mean?

      2 things either are different or they are not different from each other.

      So, where does “no different” come from? That term makes no sense to me.

  46. Jess says:

    People can be educated and intelligent, but speak incorrectly at times. Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses. Let’s try to help people with their weaknesses as opposed to just being rude and overbearing. I come from the generation where grammar was not taught, so I know for sure that I am lacking in that area at times. And yet, I am still very successful in my career and I have a superior IQ. Instead of bashing each other, we need to think of ways to better public education.

    • That was well said. Thank you for your comments.

    • Jen says:

      I agree. I am educated but there is no “revision” available when speaking. Often times we are moving through conversational topics so quickly that there is not time to think of this verb with this thing (I actually don’t know the terms for grammar, I just know what sounds well together). I could use a grammar refresher, but I don’t feel that my saying something incorrect grammatically really hurts anything when you at least understand my meaning. Isn’t that the whole point of language, to communicate? How I speak plays no part in how I write.

  47. Mark says:

    “Than,” at least how I’ve thought of it, works in terms of comparisons of more or less. The correct way of saying, “It is no different for men than it is for women,” would be: “It is no more (or less) different for men than it is for women.” Just as you would say: “It is no harder for men than it is for women.” That is to say, what you are comparing is the degree of difference between what “it” is for men and what “it” is for women.

    “Different from” has more to do not with comparing degree, but with acknowledging a fact. When I say that roller-skating is different from ice-skating, I’m not commenting on HOW different the two are – I’m simply stating that there IS a difference.

    This, for me, is how I tell the difference in usage. In other words, there is no problem with “different than,” just as long as you have “more” or “less” in front of it. If you don’t, then you should be using “different from.”

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