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Proofreading Service - Pain in the English

Your Pain Is Our Pleasure

24-Hour Proofreading Service—We proofread your Google Docs or Microsoft Word files. We hate grammatical errors with a passion. Learn More

Correct preposition following different?

I am sure most of us will agree that “from” is the only preposition which should follow the word “different”. However it would be interesting to hear logical argument from those who favour others such as “to” and “than”.

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Logical argument - this is language usage in the real world of which you speak, no?

As to my own usage, I can live quite happily with "different to" but find "different than" to be semantically unviable. I might hazard, for example, that the red of my kilt is different to the red of yours, but to say the one is different than the other is rather similar to the answer to the question "what's the difference between a duck?" - "one leg's both the same."

Seriously though, if prepositions actually follow a system of logic it is one unknown to (wo)man - ponder awhile on the question of why a Dane says on the post office but in the bank. (As it happens, I have a theory, but it seems not to hold for all similar cases. Further, our Dane actually says _på posthuset_ or _i banken_ - we translate the prepositions as on and in, presumably because those are what they seem most commonly to mean.

Logic, language - oedipus smoedipus!

semiotek Jan-31-2011

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I note that I have left an open bracket - although that was accidental, it illustrates my feeling about "different than" rather well…

semiotek Jan-31-2011

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Really? Different to whom? Compared to the norm, some people are more different than others. And different by whose standards? Different in what ways? Some things become more different over time, and different except for certain similarities. I could do this all day, but perhaps I've already proved my point? There's nothing fundamental about "different" that requires one preposition over another. Different prepositions have different meanings. Simply choose the right one that conveys the desired meaning.

porsche Jan-31-2011

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oops, that's ...proven...

porsche Jan-31-2011

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First, if you think that “most of us will agree” on anything you must be new to this site.

Second—and this really should have been first—there can be no hard rule as to what preposition follows “different.” Consider the following:

“Sheila thought serving pizza for breakfast would be different.”

Is a comparative is implied? Not really. For all we know Sheila usually serves calamari in the AM. No comparative is present. Consider:

“Sheila thought serving pizza for breakfast would be different from the usual eggs.”

A comparison has been made, therefore a comparative word—from—is used.

But in another instance “to” might be correct:

“Sheila thought it would be different to serve pizza for breakfast.”

Whatever: Sheila is no chef. Last, this:

“Sheila thought nothing could be more different than to serve pizza for breakfast.”

Except, of course, calamari.

The point is that “different” may be followed by various prepositions depending on context.

English is like that. It’s different.

douglas.r.bryant Jan-31-2011

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My initial post was obviously not clear.
I was thinking only in terms of comparisons.
eg:- Apples are different from oranges.

user106928 Jan-31-2011

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Yeah, I think it's almost always from, but not the only..
I wouldn't mind if I saw a different to.. but that mostly appeals to me literarily, to be honest..

This is different from this. From is like a word of subtraction in this context of comparison. So, I almost get a negative connotation here. The first "this" is different in a bad way, and so, is missing a leg, from the image of this fine, full-bodied person, with two legs.

This is different compared to this -> This is different to this. (I think that's where the fault comes from - a shortened version)

On the contrary, if this is different to this, to is like a word of addition or complement in this context of comparison. So, I almost get a positive connotation here. The first "this" is different in a good way, and so, is in excess of a leg, to the image of this fine, full-bodied person, with two legs.. or, wait.. I have just made a discovery! No, three legs is truly the full-bodied person, not the image of two legs, for one leg is missing in that person!

You obviously know about adjectives like better and greater. Greater comes from great. However, there is no such thing as adjectiver or sucher.. Not every word comes with a complementary word that compares two things!

In the same way, there is no such thing as differenter. But, you can say more different. Any word that doesn't have a comparison word uses more.. and every word that does shouldn't use more. In any case, use more for different, and equate those two lexical concepts. Does anyone say This is better to this or better from this? You MUST say this is better than this.. In the same way, when you use more than, you have to use than. And so, This is different from this, but it is also more different than that..

If anything, This is better to this means, this is better to this person.. As in, this is a better interpretation to this person's eyes, perspective.

Douglas made a good point about the following depending on the context.. but he didn't clearly answer the poster's inquiry. I think he implicitly meant that, in your static context, there IS a hard rule.. but I'm making an assumption, from the best of his explanation!

dbfreak Feb-10-2011

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Different to seems to be the norm for the British, different from for Americans. I see nothing wrong with either of those as they don't make the mistake treating different as a comparative. Different than is (almost) always wrong, and it always grates on me, especially since I often hear and read it in the media where it's a gross abuse of the tools of the trade. A can be bigger, older, wiser, hotter, longer, etc than B but not different than B.

I can think of one awkward example where different than would be correct:

"I think A is different from B. Chris thinks C is more different than A."

In the second sentence, from is implied and the expanded sentence would read: Chris thinks C is more different from B than A is.

This is a case where using different as a comparative is legit. I did say it was awkward, didn't I?

John C Mar-08-2011

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I'm not sure I agree about "different to" as mentioned above a few times. To me, "A is different from B" means that A and B are dissimilar. "A is different to B" means that B is of the opinion that A is different from some unstated or previously stated norm.

porsche Mar-08-2011

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From listening to the BBC, and conversing with my English friends, I have to conclude that the British "different to" has exactly the same meaning as the American "different from". That's the only sense I've ever heard it used as.

John C Mar-08-2011

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Perhaps the British "different to" was originally "different compared to", the word compared now being implicit.

Google "different to" and you might find more unique opinions than there are hits. This is a very messy language, indeed.

John C Mar-08-2011

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John, the "different to" I was referring to is something like this: "does this seem different to you?" As for "different to" used similarly to "different from", personally, I've never heard it, but then I'm not from the UK (but do have UK relatives, etc.).

porsche Mar-09-2011

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British English: my answer is different to your answer

US English: my answer is different from your answer.

Each is different to the other - oops - does that betray my location?

Each sounds wrong to the other.

Clear now?

vf Mar-10-2011

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""About 4% of New York City's roughly 1 million students currently attend charter schools -- which are paid with public funds but typically have different mandates, approaches and staffing arrangements THAT traditional schools."

(From the CNN site)

Note "different TO" often used in northern parts of Britain...

Groucho May-28-2011

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THAT has to be a typo. "That" isn't even a preposition, it's a conjunction, which makes its usage here wrong on any side of the Atlantic.

I'm sure the the writer meant to say THAN, and allowed a spellchecker to do the copy editing. "Than" is a conjunction, too. Unfortunately, it's usage as a preposition dates back a couple of centuries, so who am I to push on that rope?

John C May-28-2011

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Groucho: In this context
"Different to... traditional schools" = standard anywhere English.
"Different than...traditional schools" - not a usage I have heard.
"Different from... traditional schools" may be US English which is now turning back and influencing some GB usage.

John C - you are absolutely correct, but I bet you wish you hadn't misused your apostrophe on this site...

vf May-28-2011

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Ouch! Those apostrophe gremlins stalk me everywhere, and the punctuation police are never far behind, damn their eyes.

"Different than" seems to have become pandemic here in the states and it still makes my teeth grind. My dentist disapproves.

John C May-28-2011

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From :-
"A sensible discussion of different from versus different than may be found in Theodore M. Bernstein's The Careful Writer, published in 1965. Bernstein favours the former usage in most instances.
So does the usage panel in my 1976 American Heritage Dictionary.
The argument has nothing to do with Latin. People say different than out of the mistaken belief that different is a comparative adjective and thus takes than, as with better than, faster than, etc. But it's not a comparative (diff, differ, diffest?), it just looks like one. Different is used to draw a distinction and thus properly takes from, as do separate from, distinct from, apart from, etc. (One recognizes that we say in contrast to; one also concedes that another false comparative, other than, is firmly entrenched in the language. Never mind, this is English. One does the best one can.)
Some may say: Who cares what preposition we use? Prepositions have always been a little arbitrary. Bernstein would reply that it's more than a matter of switching words; we're talking about different parts of speech. A key element of his argument is that than is usually construed as a conjunction, with part of the dependent clause omitted. "We are better than they" is really an abbreviation of "we are better than they are" (which is why we properly say they rather than them.) But in most cases--I'll get to the exceptions in a moment--different doesn't take a conjunction ("I am different than he is"?); it takes a plain old preposition, from. This argument probably had more force in 1965 than it does today, when most people don't even know what a preposition is. But Bernstein's point is still valid. Many people who know nothing of grammar will concede that better than them grates on the ear nonetheless.
Bernstein admits that there are instances in which different than is preferable. He cites some quotes originally dredged up by Bergen Evans: "How different things appear in Washington than in London." "It has possessed me in a different way than ever before." To use from in these sentences would require some lumbering construction like, "How different things appear in Washington from the way they appear in London." Bernstein and Evans offer a rather vague rationale for why than is OK, but it boils down to this: In the sentences above, than functions as a conjunction, not a preposition. The first is a condensed version of "How different things appear in Washington than they do in London"; the expanded form of the second would conclude, "than it ever has before."
So there's our rule. When different is followed by a prepositional phrase, the preposition should be from. When it's followed by a dependent clause introduced by a conjunction (even if much of the clause is elliptical), the conjunction should be than.
A few malcontents will have none of this, claiming that in England it's considered perfectly proper to use different than in a prepositional construction. So? The English also drink warm beer, avoid dentists, and came up with 5,280 feet to the mile. In the end, logic will always fall before usage; you're not going to find me holding out for "it is I" rather than "it's me," even though logic demands the former. But this is one of those on-the-bubble situations where logic has a fighting chance, so I say we give it a shot."

user106928 Nov-17-2011

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My understanding is that in both AmE and BrE, 'different from' is the norm. But in BrE we also have the choice of 'different to', and are probably more likely to use it before 'that' and 'what'. My dictionary also allows 'different than' as an AmE alternative, but I know that's controversial, so I'll leave that to the North Americans to sort out.

Here are a couple of examples from the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary:

American English is significantly different from British English.
(British English) It's very different to what I'm used to.
(North American English) He saw he was no different than anybody else.

And here is H.W.Fowler:

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

That's from a brief discussion at

Warsaw Will Nov-20-2011

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From the OED:

usage: Different from, different than, and different to: what are the distinctions between these three constructions, and is one more correct than the others? In practice, different from is both the most common structure and the most accepted.

Different than is used chiefly in North America, although its use is increasing in British English. Because it can be followed by a clause, it is sometimes more concise than different from (compare "things are different than they were a year ago" with "things are different from the way they were a year ago").

Different to, although common in Britain, is disliked by traditionalists and sounds peculiar to American ears.

AnWulf Nov-20-2011

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Hi Anwulf,
How's the novel?

Glad we are once again on the same wavelength.
" Different to" definitely grates on the ear, and I agree with your use of than followed by a clause.
To say something like "Apples are different than oranges" also grates.

I wonder if the "different to" mob also say "similar from"?

user106928 Nov-20-2011

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Better different than boring! lol

I don't get wrapped umbe (around) the axle about this. But some folks think that the English tung is falling to pieces if someone says different than rather than different from. Meh!

As I often harp on, different is a Latinate that's being brooked with an Anglo preposition. My French is not so good but I think in French it would be "différente de" ... "de" can be "of, to, from, by, with, than, at, out of, off". So there yu go! It shouldn't be amazing that folks hav brooked sundry prepositions with it from the beginning.

So for me ... from, than ... meh ... OTOH, "to" stevens (sounds) funny but not something that I'd go out of my way to right ... unless it was a formal paper.

My rede for outlanders and even erd-speakers: Tests like TOEFL, SAT, ACT, asf are written by pedants. Therefore, if the choice is different from/than ... pick from if it is a straightforward likening ... with a clause, a little trickier ... never choose "to".

Anent, the novel, it would go faster if I'd stay off the net! :)

AnWulf Nov-21-2011

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@HairyScot - good joke about 'similar', but everything else you say only strengthens my impression that you live outwith the UK now. If I only use 'different to' before 'that' and 'what', does that still make me a member of 'the mob'?

Warsaw Will Nov-21-2011

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@Warsaw Will
As I said in another post, being a pedantic old curmudgeon, I try to follow what I believe are the correct rules, but I do not expect everyone to agree with me, although there are some things that do make me cringe.
If someone asks what is correct then I will state what I believe to be correct.
If that person then argues I will normally give up. One should not ask a question if not prepared to accept an answer.
I tend to modify my speech depending on my audience. I would never think of lapsing into Glescaranto outside of Scotland as it would tend to make communication difficult.

I have indeed lived outside UK for quite some time. I moved to South Africa in 1981, and then to NZ in 2007. Neither of these countries could be described as bastions of perfect English.
Even the English themselves are sometimes the worst offenders when it comes to misuse or abuse of the language.
I recall one of the presenters on Sky Sports coming up with "welcome along to" and we all know about "the lawr as it is practised"

It is interesting to note that compared to Latin the German language has as many, if not more rules. The ones I found hardest to grasp were those governing the endings of adjectives where there are multiple possibilities depending on tense, mood, gender etc.
Since English is heavily influenced by both I guess it is reasonable to expect that there are some rules.

I guess those rules, like tax demands, are merely a suggestion.


user106928 Nov-21-2011

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Since we use the term latinate to indicate latin roots, why do we say germanic and not germanate?

user106928 Nov-21-2011

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@Hairy Scot ... Notice that I say that English is a Germanic tung ... not German. I wouldn't want to go back to all the nouns and adjectivs having gender and declining. But all that was falling out anyway before the Normans came. Still, I like German even if trying to get the endings right is sometimes mind-boggling. Afrikaans, another Germanic tung, is eath when likened to German! lol

Anent the endings for Germanic and Latinate, to be sooth, I was a little surprised by the -ate afterfast when I first saw it too ... I can only guess ... first off, germinate is a verb that would be very close to Germanate, but germinate is likely a back-formation from germination ... so Germanic was likely umbe before that. The -ate does let us brook the adjectiv as a noun ... Latinate. Whereas Germanic doesn't let us do so. ... It's way past my bedtime ... I'm rambling ... I might giv it some thought later.

But consider:
Latin > Latinate words
German > Germanic words
Slav > Slavic words
Scandinavia > Scandinavian words (tho the word Scandinavia is treated more like a country than a tung-kindred)
Semite > Semitic

Latin seems to be outlier here.

AnWulf Nov-21-2011

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@HairyScot - 'Glescaranto' - that's a new one on me, although I do remember Parliamo Glesga. But I'm from 'that other city', you know, where the best thing is the train back to Glasgow.

I've only been pressing you on your whereabouts because much of the talk on the 'were/was' post was about current British usage. It is standard practice on many linguistics blogs to declare your language background, but people seem to be rather reluctant to do so here.

For example I would never dream of trying to correct an American or a New Zealander on usage in their countries.

Anyway, as I've said to you on the 'with the exception of' post -Thanks and lang may your lum reek - :)

Warsaw Will Nov-23-2011

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@Warsaw Will
My home town was Greenock.
I left Scotland in 1981, but 35 years on Clydeside have left their mark.
You're correct, I should put something in the profile section. Just a bit concerned that some of my old school mates may recognise me and pepper me with insults because I chose to take French and Latin and not Gaelic.

user106928 Nov-23-2011

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IT IS NOT DIFFERENT THAN, and certainly not different to! Different from is correct. Even though I'm just a kid I know the rule: similar to and different from! I get pissed off with my english teacher for getting it wrong. I hope Mr. Fraser gets sacks and then goes to a really posh school and gets his head bitten off for saying 'different to!' :P

Tom Cross Jun-03-2012

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I delighted that kids are passionate about English usage, but I'm afraid that you do need to check your sources, Tom.

Perhaps you have been given advice which is very different to the advice given to me.

I personally would never dream of saying "different from", which sounds very clumsy to me. I have the authority of Fowler to back me on the acceptability of "different to" (see earlier in this thread), so I'm afraid that his venerable opinion is different to yours.

But there again my English usage can be different to your English usage without either of us being wrong.

My level of "poshness" is (thank goodness) somewhere well below zero, but my level of education is very different to my level on the social ladder.

Don't make the mistake of supposing that "posh" = "correct". The moneyed classes may have an education which is different to mine, but I refute the idea that it is superior.

vf Jun-03-2012

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Good to see that this old thread is still alive.

Tom Cross is correct and you are wrong.
I am from Britain and I would never dream of saying "different to" or "different than".
There are those south of Hadrian's Wall who, regardless of their education, have the mistaken impression that "different to" is correct.

user106928 Jun-03-2012

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"Even though I'm just a kid I know the rule: similar to and different from!"
I remember being just a kid, when I knew everything simply because the real world hadn't had time to contract everything I knew. Just because you learned a rule doesn't mean... much of anything, really.

'from' and 'to' are equivalent in my mind simply because they function as prepositions, and we seem to need a preposition between 'similar/different' and something. You can reason that 'similar' and 'different' imply movement, and therefore dictate the usage of 'to' and 'from', but reason will drive you into a deep dark abyss of insanity when applied to language, especially a creole language such as English.

I'm not even complaining about 'different than' anymore, though it still sets my teeth on edge. It has a usage history stretching into centuries and it is often used in places where either 'from' or 'to' would lead to very awkward sentences.

Go back about 53 weeks in this thread to read yet another rehash of this argument.

See the Hairy Scot post from 17 Nov, 2011 for examples of 'than' being preferable.

John C Jun-03-2012

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Isn't it weird how experiences differ? I'm not from Britain, but I consume a fair amount of British media and have British friends. I can't think of a case where I have heard a Brit say "different from". I've heard "different to" so many times that I'm sure "different from" would have triggered alarms in my head.

John C Jun-03-2012

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@John C

Please do not confuse Britain with England. There are major differences in the way the language is used in the various countries, and indeed counties, in the British Isles.

"Different to" seems mainly to be an affliction of those living in England. It also seems to be a fairly recent (within last 20-30 years) affliction. Not sure of the reason or source.

During the first 35 years of my life before leaving Scotland I had never heard anything other than "different from".
I was taught that the rule was exactly what Tom Cross states, "Similar to and different from".
I doubt that anything to the contrary was ever taught in any British school during the 50s and 60s. Perhaps things changed after that.

There is a case for "different than" with the use of subordinate clauses. It also comes off the tongue a bit more easily than saying "different from that which".

My post of 17/11/2011 contains a copy of info from another source so I cannot take credit for the opinions expressed.

user106928 Jun-03-2012

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I don't confuse England with Britain, though many English seem to, as they are more than 80% of the UK population. I can't vouch for how it was taught in the fifties and sixties, though my English friends were educated in that era. I might have to ask them if they remember anything through the haze of the sixties.
It's true that the bulk of my exposure to British English has been through BBC presenters, news readers, and one Scottish expat. Perhaps there is a similar skew in foreign exposure to American English.

Anyway, I maintain my stand that 'to' and 'from' are functionally equivalent in this usage, and am not worried about how it afflicts the English. A far worse affliction of the English is their diminishing ability to pronounce their rhotic consonants. :)

John C Jun-03-2012

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@John C

You are of course entitled to hold to your stance, as I am to mine.
Once upon a time I would have argued this point till blue in the face (another old Scots custom not understood by the English).
Now I usually tend to say DILLIGAS and let things lie.

BTW: DILLIGAS qualifies as a genuine acronym, but that's another thread. :-)

user106928 Jun-03-2012

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Dear Hairy Scot

I can probably claim to be hairier than you - photos can substantiate the claim if you insist.

You cannot be more Scottish than me (OK - I do have, if tortured, have to admit to one English great-grandmother. (ancestry website is primed to demonstrate)

And I have the great advantages
1) of having remained in Scotland (for an indeterminate number of years exceeding 50 except time spent studying languages abroad)
2) of having languages/translation as my profession.

I receive "different from "as americanised.

However there is obviously a significant difference in native (GB) language speakers' opinion on this one, so why do we go on claiming superiority?

My English/Scots usage is different to yours, yours is different to mine. It may be different to mine, but I do not argue that it is superior to mine or inferior to mine.
(Could there be parellels there.......)

Lang may yer lum reek, wha's like us.......

vf Jun-04-2012

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Dear vf,

Aye, very good.

We'll just have to agree to disagree.

Not sure that anyone was claiming superiority.

Just one small point in closing: one would think that since in normal use the verb "to differ" is always followed by "from" that this logic would apply to the use of any derivative of that verb.

But, as you say, my usage differs from yours as yours differs from mine.

Awrrabest, awrratime

user106928 Jun-04-2012

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Mediator, perhaps you would like to remove this last comment. I wasn't aware that this site was an open forum for abuse, and unfortunately the "report abuse" link doesn't seem to be working.

My comment was that "I received" the expression as americanised.
What does this have to do with my education or its location?

Do 13 years in Scottish schools and 4 years at an ancient Scottish university count as an education by your exacting standards?

What a shame that your own educational establishments provided you with no more reasoned forms of expression than "utter rubbish" and "sure as hell".

vf Jun-05-2012

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My memory of the English taught in the Scottish schools which I attended from 1951 until 1963 is reasonably intact and one of the rules that we were taught was that "different from" was the correct form.
I can appreciate Mediator's incredulity if not the manner in which he expressed it.
Perhaps things changed after the 60s?
I hear things nowadays that would have my high school English teachers turning in their graves.
The link provided by Perfect Pedant clearly shows that "different from" is the preferred form on both sides of the pond.

user106928 Jun-05-2012

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I have no recollection of this point ever having been taught this point at all (and my Scottish schooldays overlap with yours).

To my mind is simply a question of preferred style of expression.

I do hope that some contributors to this discussion are more equable in their private lives than in this column - in fact I hope that some of them have some kind of a life at all!

Best wishes, however you wish them expressed, from Scotland. I will leave others to fight over the bones of this debate!

vf Jun-05-2012

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I was going to chime in about eight comments ago but deleted without submitting, thinking that I was being too full of myself. Alas, it appears I do have something to offer, that hasn't been mentioned, yet.

The gist of my comment was that the original question does not yield to logic and reason or even to history.
Stop reading now if you're really getting bored with this dead horse. Read on if you can stand a little more pontificating on my part.
If you google the subject you will find many debates on the web, none of which, I've found, offer a more convincing argument than "This is the rule I learned in school". At least this thread has maintained a decent level of civility.

Here's the thing. Language does not evolve from the top down. There is no authority (except in France) deciding what a particular word will mean in the future, how it will be spelled, what part of speech it will be, how sentences will be constructed... Now expand the list to include prepositions, conjunctions and everything there is about language. The point is that people speak and write differently from the way they used to because someone started doing it in the past; We don't necessarily know why; Maybe it made the language flow more smoothly; Maybe it was just a mistake. But others liked it, or just got used to it, and took up the change Now the change is correct. Good luck adjudicating such a change using logic and reason. Even if you try to trace the history of the change, you tend to run into dead ends and disputed facts rather quickly. A good example of this is the split infinitive I used a few sentences ago.



John C Jun-05-2012

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I'm British, and I firmly believe that 'different from' is the correct usage. However, I suspect I more often say 'different to', as the fr-fr of the correct form makes my teeth fall out.

earthcalling Jun-05-2012

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ang ganda naman maraming matututunan ehhh:)

kimberly diesta Oct-18-2012

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I thought for one shocking moment that Perfect Pedant had turned descriptivist, until I realised he was quoting from WorldWideWords. PP contrasts here two different attitudes to the question in hand, as if they were of equal weight. I'd just like to point out that WorldWideWords is a well-known and highly respected language site, and an excellent source for the meanings of all sorts of words and expressions, especially new ones. Its author, etymologist Michael Quinion, is also a contributor to the OED.

On the other hand, as far as I can see, the writer at is a computer scientist with no special expertise in language, in other words, just a regular guy like you or me. And like you or me he is entitled to his opinions, of course, but I know who I'd trust more on questions of English.

Warsaw Will Oct-19-2012

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I grew up (in America) saying "different than" because that's what my parents said. Later in life I adopted "different from". But to return to the inexplicable-preposition discussion at the start of the thread, professional jazz musicians say "to be on a band" rather than "in a band", especially when referring to big bands. "Yeah, I remember that cat, he was on the Ellington band for a while." "Say, weren't you on Maynard's band back in the 80's?" etc.

Tom Storer Feb-06-2014

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Americans tend to use 'different than' on its own, but correctly, the 'than' is the other half of 'more', thus: more different than (something else).

CoullPert Jul-06-2019

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