Do You Really Need That “Different”?

By Maeve Maddox

An editor points out the expendability of the word different:

I often come across unnecessary words my writers insist on using. My current pet peeve is the word “different” when talking about multiple locations. Is there any instance when “different” would be necessary when talking about a specific number of multiples?

The editor is thinking of examples like these:

The paper deals with the development of a tool used for the life cycle assessment of residential buildings located in three different European towns.

Microsoft Office 2013 comes in twelve different editions, including three editions for retail outlets, two editions for volume licensing channel, etc.

He came to three different conclusions.

Here are three different recipes to make the perfect brisket for your Erin Go Bragh holiday.

In each example, the meaning remains unchanged when different is deleted:

The paper deals with the development of a tool used for the life cycle assessment of residential buildings located in three European towns.

He came to three conclusions.

Here are three recipes to make the perfect brisket for your Erin Go Bragh holiday.

Microsoft Office 2013 comes in twelve editions, including three editions for retail outlets, two editions for volume licensing channel, etc.

Certainly writers for whom word-count is an important consideration should eliminate the unnecessary different in such contexts.

I don’t know if there is a context in which different would be necessary when preceded by a number, but I think there are instances in which it’s not totally unnecessary. For example, a writer’s purpose might be to emphasize variety:

A tradition exists among some families to serve twelve different dishes at Wigilia symbolizing the Twelve Apostles.

In most instances, however, the editor is correct in finding this use of different redundant.

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13 Responses to “Do You Really Need That “Different”?”

  • AlexB

    I would argue the different in the first example could be useful. I read it as meaning three different towns, as opposed to three that were similar (since some towns are very alike, and some differ wildly) to test the tool in different environments.

  • Marija

    I absolutely agree with the post. The style is better when the word “different” is omitted. AlexB, I understand what you’re saying, but I don’t think that’s the case in this example.

  • Gregory Gubish

    Great point! I’ll have to take a look back at some of my work and see if I’ve abused “different.”

  • Kamila

    I found this post quite enlightening, as It made me realise that I often make the mistake of using ‘different’ unnecessarily when I speak. But I also think I might have found instances when omitting ‘different’ after a number would change the meaning of a sentence. The following came to my mind:
    “My sister’s wearing three different bracelets”
    “My dresser drawers have eight different knobs”
    So I’d say when there normally is a set of identical items (as in the second example) or there could be a set (as in the first example) and we want to point out it is not the case, then the ‘different’ would not be redundant.
    (Please forgive any mistakes – English is not my mother tongue)

  • David Knuttunen

    Isn’t “necessary” a binary concept? Isn’t something either necessary, or
    not? “Not totally unnecessary” thus strikes me as conceptually odd, if one tries to take it literally. I think what you meant was “at least useful.”

  • ApK

    I agree that ‘different’ is often redundant as in those examples. But it’s possible to have identical multiples, so then distinguishing ‘different’ is important. I can make four ham sandwiches for my family or I can make four different sandwiches if no one else wants ham. Of course that’s potentially ambiguous in that particular context since I might mean four identical turkey sandwiches, all of which are different than ham, or I might mean a variety of sandwiches, each different than the others.

  • Jason

    The quadratic equation 2x^2 + 5x + k = 0 has equal roots.
    So in this case saying “the equation has two roots” would imply that the equation has two different roots, when in fact they are equal.

  • Bill

    I see AlexB’s point too, but noticed that the comment says “very alike” and “differ wildly.” I would only use “different” in the examples with an intensifier. “Three very different towns” would emphasize that a variety of research samples had been used. “Three wildly different conclusions” would convey the idea that there is breadth among them.

  • Andy Knoedler

    I would guess that the authors of the excerpts cited might have been aiming to convey the concept of “distinct.” The writer mentioning the editions of MS Office, for example, might have wanted to show that they didn’t just have their own names but were fundamentally changed to suit their intended customers.

  • Kay R.

    I agree with the post and concur with Bill; if you substitute “differing” it brings in another meaning. I

  • venqax

    I think the last part of the article gets it right. Most of the time it’s redundant and so best left off. In some contexts, however, it serves a purpose. “Not totally unnecessary” is just an informal way of saying “not completely useless” or using some other idiomatic-type of phrase. True, unnecessary and complete are easily considered absolutes to which qualifiers should’t be applied. But we usually use idioms for their impact, not their literal meanings.

    As long as a writer or speaker says different from and not different than, which doesn’t even make any sense, I’ll usually let the rest pass. Different to is, I know, a Britishism so I’ll leave it alone but, come on. Really?

  • ApK

    “As long as a writer or speaker says different from and not different than, which doesn’t even make any sense, I’ll usually let the rest pass.

    Harumph! It’s made sense to many writers for centuries.
    http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/words/different-from-than-or-to
    http://grammarist.com/usage/different/

  • Precise Edit

    I agree with the recommendation to remove any words that do not add value. This is not only about word count but also about respect for the readers.

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