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  • different from/different than

    I read this sentence recently in a book, and it immediately struck me as awkward and incorrect.

    Curiosity is different than other ways of being fulfilled…

    Shouldn’t it be “different from“?

    Different from, different than…what’s the difference (pardon the pun)?

    The word than is a preposition that usually follows an adjective when making a comparison between people, items, or conditions. Examples include more than, less than, better than, worse than, colder than, sweeter than—you get the idea.

    However, different than can also be correctly used in a sentence such as the following:

    College life is different than I expected.

    So, what is the distinction between this example and the first one that uses different than incorrectly?  A clause instead of a noun follows the word different.

    General Guideline:

    If a noun follows different, use from:
    Curiosity is different from other ways of being fulfilled…

    If a clause (has a subject and verb) follows different, use than:
    College life is different than I expected.

    See also Dictionary.com’s explanation:
    How do I know when to use different from, different than, different to?

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    Posted by Rachel V. in Grammar

    24 Responses to “different from/different than”

    Thank you for taking the time to add your thoughts to the discussion. I can't respond to every comment, but I read and appreciate them all.

    1. Hello, I just dropped by to review this site. It looks really good and I liked reading it, thanks for the good information!

    2. maureen henry says:

      Do you capitalize special forms when used in a sentence? Examples:
      An Authorization Letter is required.
      Please complete Section 9 on Form 15689.

      Thanks

    3. cain says:

      “different than” does not make sense.. what is more different that whats already different? its just as incorrect as saying, “you are more unique than everybody else”.. i say, only “different from” can be used when making comparison..

    4. Gaer says:

      I agree with the author, of course, because she or he is correct. The only thing which could have been added is a mention of the elliptical clause–one in which the clause’s verb is assumed yet not mentioned. This would, of course, only apply to “than.” Example: Ocean water is saltier than brackish. or, Ocean water is saltier than brackish water. or (the most complete thought, Ocean water is saltier than brackish water is. One must take care not to mistake an elliptical clause for a mere phrase. This is merely an addendum.

    5. Words Inside says:

      As a BrE speaker, I find “…different than…” highly unacceptable. I just found the following text on a site: “The B2B (business to business) world is different than B2C (business to consumer) or C2C (consumer to consumer)”. For me, this gave an image of poor quality. Be warned! If your target audience includes British readers, don’t count on them accepting “different than” as good quality writing, despite the fact that it’s apparently not actually *wrong*.

      I suspect that the use of “than” has become acceptable in AmE due to frequent use, rightly or wrongly, in much the same way as “If I was you…”.

      Oxford University Press say “Some people criticize different than as incorrect but there’s no real justification for this view”. – http://oxforddictionaries.com/words/different-from-than-or-to – Note, “criticize” with a “z”! Surprising. In fact, Surprizing (I’m sure that will catch on).

      They also say “In practice, different from is by far the most common”.

      Conclusion: Using “from” rather than “than” will be more acceptable to a wider audience. Why not play it safe?

    6. colinr says:

      IMHO (as they say…) when people say something like:

      ‘College is different than I expected’

      - which, as stated, is incorrect, I believe – what they appear to be implying is:

      ‘College is [more] different [from my image of what college would be like] than I expected [it would be]‘

      i.e. They knew it would be different; but not as different as they subsequently found it.

      Use of More and Than is an acceptable construction. So there may be a case for using ‘more different than [some other unstated, but understood, difference (for instance, as might have been expected)].

      In these days of quick rapport and instant messaging we tend to miss out (and even add) words which are necessary for correct construction and transfer of meaning. Unfortunately the meaning can be unintentionally changed by this.

      I don’t really want to give any excuses for bad sentence construction though… I make up enough of them myself!

      :-)

    7. charin .w says:

      well, different strokes for different folks
      “college life is different than I expected.
      “college life is different from what i expected.
      ” than” is a conj.
      ” from” is a prep.
      I expected and what i expected, both are incomplete,make it complete sentence that way you’ll know what word is right.

    8. Smith na non says:

      If you compare something WITH another thing, that means you are finding the DIFFERENCES between the two objects.
      One the other hand, if you compare something TO something, that means you are finding the SIMILARITIES between the two objects.

    9. luke says:

      Sorry to be RUDE but I was raised with better than different from and I am NOT going to change at my advanced age. Your example: COLLEGE LIFE IS DIFFERENT THAN I EXPECTED… it to be (implied) is absurd. Why not say:
      COLLEGE LIFE IS DIFFERENT FROM WHAT I EXPECTED? Why get into the INSANITY of sounding un-educated rather than just follow the rules? I am American and I remember taking the Queen Mary II which had a NO JEANS policy–Not just at dinner but all over the ship. My fellow Americans loved showing their independence by wearing jeans just to show the Brits how RUDE they were. Why?

    10. Eoghan Baird says:

      Different than is just WRONG. It can only mean, if it means anything, ‘diferenter’ (more different) which isn’t even a word (or a concept).

      Just because Americans in their supreme ignorance use it does NOT make it acceptable nor elegant.

    11. Nancy says:

      What fun! I (shall or will) be back!

    12. Simon Ward says:

      Correct usage is different from, similar to.To should not be used after the word adjacent. eg.the body lay adjacent the wall.this is English usage and therefore correct.

    13. Arley says:

      In both U.S. English and British English, one person or thing is said to be different from another. Different is also often followed by than in U.S. English. Some people believe that different than is incorrect, but it is very common. In British English, different can be followed by to. Different to is not used in U.S. English.
      ▪ The old house looks different from what I remember. = (Brit) The old house looks different to what I remember. = (US) The old house looks different than I remember.

    14. Mr.RightUsage says:

      Dear people,

      I always correct close ones when they repeatedly use the phrase “different than.” Why? I’m not an English teacher, but I have always reasoned that since “different” is merely the noun form of the verb “differ,” the correct usage would stem from the preposition that follows the word “differ.” If something differs, it differs FROM something else; ergo, if one thing differs from another, it is different from it (not THAN it).

      Difference necessarily implies inequality, but that is not its linguistic function. Consider that, when compared to other qualifiers (like “faster”), “different” works differently. The word “different” can be qualified in ways “faster” can’t; e.g., a thing can be more different but not more faster. Moreover, things must only be MORE or LESS different THAN other things. A thing cannot simply be different than another, but it can differ from another or be more or less different than another.

      As for the problem of clauses inconveniently following the word, my solution is to turn the clause into a noun phrase. For example, “different from what I expected” instead of “different from I expected.” I hope I used the term “noun phrase” correctly. I can’t comment on the rectitude of leaving the clause and using “than,” but I find it exceedingly awkward. Lesser of two evils, methinks.

      The word “err” is a great analogy. Things can err or be errant. They are the active and passive ways of saying the same thing, like differ and different. Things err from other things, or they can be errant from things. It is clear from the usage of the verb that the noun form is awkward with “than” after it. Nothing can be errant THAN something, it can only err or be errant FROM something. Oh, but it can also me MORE or LESS errant THAN something else.

      Forgive my inconsistent usage of quotation marks. Without italics, they become necessary in egregious forms. Also, my parlance is clearly unenlightened by strict terminology, but I think my reasoning is sound. Perhaps the editor could reword it more eloquently.

      Thanks.

      • Rachel V. says:

        Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the different from/different than quandary. I think that readers here will benefit from your comments.

    15. Jeff says:

      “College life is different than I expected.”

      should be

      “College life is different than what I expected.”

      or

      “College life is different than my expectation.”

      The original had too many objects, each complete with its own verb.

      • Rachel V. says:

        Jeff, thanks for your comment. I disagree, however.

        “College life is different than I expected.” This is the same as saying, “College life is different than I expected it to be.” There is nothing incorrect about this sentence.

        “College is different than my expectation.” This, to my knowledge, is incorrect. Than is a conjunction, and you are using it where a preposition–in this case, the word from–is needed.

    16. Rachel V. says:

      Olumide:

      Janet is not seated. (???)

      “Compare with” and “compare to” are basically the same.

    17. olumide says:

      please kindly correct this :
      what is difference between compare with & compare to

    18. olumide says:

      please kindly correct this for me:
      should it be : Janet is not on seat/ Janet just steps out

    19. steve says:

      Your reasoning here is nonsense. Short of saying “not the same”, can anything express inequality more than “different”? In your examples it appears most of the comparisons involve some property that might be measurable, at least in principle, but even that’s a stretch (how do you measure “worse”?). Being “different” may be quantitatively different than being “colder” or “sweeter” or even “better” but not qualitatively. In fact, all of those words are used to describe a difference.

      You need to come up with a better reason because as it stands this is style not grammar (and most likely a pet peeve).

      [Editor's Note: This comment refers to a previous version of this post.]