Different from, Different to, Different than

By Maeve Maddox

We all have our pet grammar peeves, usages that, when we hear them, affect us like the sound of a fingernail against a chalkboard.

I’ll bet I’m not the only one who shudders to hear sentences like these:

A boxer is different than a Doberman.
This car is different to that one.

Yet, are these usages really incorrect?

According to the entry for different from, different to, different than at Bartleby.com,

These three have been usage items for many years. All are Standard and have long been so (different to is limited to British English, however), but only different from seems never to meet objections.

Elements of Style weighs in against different than:

Here logic supports established usage: one thing differs from another, hence, different from. Or, other than, unlike.

From H.W. Fowler comes this pronouncement:

That different can only be followed by from and not by to is a superstition.

He points out that “writers of all ages” have used different to. He does not mention the use of different than.

It would seem, then, that any of the three is acceptable.

Nevertheless, the concluding advice at Bartleby.com agrees with my own:

…for Formal and Oratorical levels: stick with different from.

63 Responses to “Different from, Different to, Different than”

  • Jeffrey W. Griffith

    The use of “different to” suddenly came into currency in America just about three or four years ago and grates upon the ear. I frankly do not care if they say it in the UK. After all, they say “aluminium” there, as well. But in America, we say “aluminum” and “different from” When I hear an American say “different to,” I cannot decide if they are being affected, as in referring to an elevator as a “lift,” or simply illiterate in American English usage. More to the point, the meaning of “different from” is clear, conveying a statement of comparison; whereas, “different to” is meaningless, nonsensical use of the preposition to, conveying no comparative concept at all. If language is to have meaning, then we must use the proper words that convey the meanings intrinsic to their use in the language. That the English may do otherwise should be of no consequence to an American. As Abraham Lincoln once said, “If I am wrong, a chorus of angels asserting that I am right cannot change that.” Eschew “different to!!!!!”

  • venqax

    I have to agree with the above that “different to” is– if OK in British– ONLY OK in British. In SAE it’s not only unacceptable but downright odd-sounding. Really, like something you would hear from an ESL speaker, not a native speaker, because it makes no logical sense.

    Different than is really substandard too, for all the well-articulated reasons. Different from is what makes sense, given the definition of different. However, I would have to allow that in some cases, different followed by a than, but not directly, is preferable for clarity and economy. E.g. from GrammarBlog:

    “It is no different for men than it is for women”

    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.”

    Of course you could fundamentally rewrite the sentence to avoid the problem, but that’s not really the point.

  • Yorick Phoenix

    I tend to use ‘from’ and ‘to’ depending on the context. eg:

    “That’s not any different to doing it the way I suggested” and “That’s completely different from the way I suggested”. It all depends on the level of difference.

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