“Different From” vs. “Different Than”

 

Some of you might have heard the usage of “different than”.  It is actually colloquial English used in America and considered inaccurate in written English.   If you want to write accurate English or take a test, always stick with “different from” to avoid being stoned by traditional grammarians or marked as error by your English teacher.         

 

If you still want to use “different than”, there is a difference in the usage of “different than” from that of “different from”.  According to the American Heritage Dictionary’s usage panel, “different than” is acceptable only if the words following “different than” make up a clause, especially if the clause is elliptical (referring to an aforementioned context without restating it) such as “different from that which”.  Here, “than” functions as a conjunction, not a preposition.  A rule of thumb, “rather than” can be used only when the word different is followed by a dependent clause introduced by the conjunction “than” (even if much of the clause is elliptical), where sentence construction of “different from” may seem rather cumbersome, awkward or redundant.

 

“Elements of Style” weighs in against using “different than”, statting that “

Here logic supports established usage: one thing differs from another, hence, different from.”, so does Theodore M. Bernstein on his discussion of “different from” vs. “different than” in “The Careful Writer”.

 

Anyway, if “different” is followed by a prepositional phrase, always use “from”, which functions as a preposition.    

 

By the way, the word “different” comes from the verb “differ”, which sets apart by exclusion rather than by degree of comparison.  When something differs, it implies another, from which it is distinguished, similar to “apart from”, “separate from”, and etc.  The mistake of using “different than” might arise from believing that “different” is a comparative adjective and thus takes “than”, as with “better than”, “less than”, and etc.  “Than” is used with the comparative or superlative degrees.

 

For example:

This ball is different than that ball. (X)

This ball is different from that ball.

<The two things being compared are parallel constructed.  For example: my house vs. his house or animals living in the wild vs. animals living in the zoo.>

 

The house looks different from what the picture shows.

The house looks different than the picture shows.  <than as a conjunction>

 

The party is different from what I expected it to be.

The party is different than I expected it to be. <than as a conjunction>

 

The party turns out differently from what I expected it to be.
The party turns out differently than I expected it to be. <than as a conjunction>

 

I feel so different than ever before. <than as a conjunction>

I feel so different than I have ever felt before. <than as a conjunction>

I feel so different from how I have ever felt before.

 

 

 

 

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