Sunday, November 04, 2012

different from, different than, different to

This post isn't so much a language rant as a guided tour through an occasionally confusing aspect of English. The topic is what prepositions to place after the adjective different.

1. different from

[Basic form: X is different from Y.]

Use from if the next words are a noun, noun phrase, or relative clause functioning as a noun/object of a preposition.

  • Catholics are different from Protestants in terms of their history, theology, hermeneutics, liturgy, and polity.

  • As most cats note, cats are very different from dogs.

  • That result was different from what I had expected.

  • What you're doing now is different from what you'd promised to do last night.

  • 2. different than

    [Basic form: different than + clause without relative pronoun]

    Use than if the locution following "different..." is merely a clause without any relative pronoun.

  • That result was different than I expected.

  • What you're doing now is different than you promised. (True, this sentence may be guilty of faulty parallelism. Just bear with me.)

  • 3. different to

    [Basic form: X is different to Y.]

    Use different to only if you're British. In UK English, different to serves exactly the same function as the US different from.

  • British English is different to American English.

  • English and Scottish scones are different to American drop biscuits.

  • What you're seeing is different to what I'm seeing.

  • Mr. Maxwell's proposal is radically different to what you're proposing.

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