Different Than or Different From?

We may not have it all together, but together we have it all.

Like many others who read Roni Loren’s blog about the danger of being sued by a photographer, I’ve spent many hours over the past few days deleting pictures from my blogs—all the way back to my first one in April of 2011. The only ones I left in are those from my own or a friend’s camera and clip art from Microsoft Office Clip Art Online, which I understand I’m licensed to use as part of my Office software. I don’t know what I will do in the future about adding photos to my blogs.

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What’s different? Well, for one thing, it’s a word that seems to be very confusing to a lot of people—writers included.

Many of you will think today’s post is another example of picking at nits, but I assure you it’s not. The grammatical error caused by this word is somewhat comparable to going around asserting that one plus one equals three.

Different is an adjective. It is used to compare two or more dissimilar people, places or things. The comparison doesn’t necessarily have to be direct. We can say people are all different, or different situations call for different answers. We don’t usually have any problem with this sort of indirect comparison.

It’s when we use different to make a direct comparison that we so often get into trouble. By direct comparison, I mean comparing this with that.

When we use the word different for this type of comparison, we frequently come out with a statement like my car is different than your car or the way this story was written is different than the way that one was written. Direct comparison—my car with your car or this story with that story.

Please note the word that links my car and yours or this story and that in this last statement. They are linked by the word with, which is a preposition. When we make such a direct comparison, we need a preposition to link the items.

Unfortunately, we often use the subordinate conjunction than instead of using a preposition when we make such statements. We say things like my vacation this year was different than last year’s vacation or my wife cooks this different than my mother did. (Actually, this last statement is never good to use anyhow. It can result in a lump on the head from a skillet or something.)

The problem with this usage is that a subordinate conjunction is used to connect a dependent clause with an independent clause, such as she is shorter than I am. In this example than connects the two clauses she is shorter and I am.

Since I didn’t intend for this post to be about clauses, I won’t belabor that point. Suffice it to say that than is almost always a conjunction. There is one situation in which it is used as a preposition, but this is not it, and I don’t want to get mired down exploring it.

To link the items in a comparison which involves different, we need to use the preposition from. My car is different from your car, or this story is different from that one. From my car is a prepositional phrase, which is what we need here.

We’ve sort of gone the long way around the subject to try to make a point, so let me state the point simply: when you use the word different to make a direct comparison between two people, places or things, we must always use from. We don’t ever use than.

Do these grammar lessons seem helpful to you, or do they seem, to paraphrase Sir Winston Churchill, more than that up with which you are willing to put?

I always love to hear your comments.

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For more information about David N. Walker, click the “About” tag above. For more information about his book, click the “Heaven Sent” tag above.

Contact him at davwalktx@yahoo.com or tweet him at @davidnwalkertx

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About David N. Walker

David N. Walker is a Christian husband, father and grandfather, a grounded pilot and a near-scratch golfer who had to give up the game because of shoulder problems. A graduate of Duke University, he spent 42 years in the health insurance industry, during which time he traveled much of the United States. He started writing about 20 years ago and has been a member and leader in several writers' groups. Christianity 101: The Simplified Christian Life, the devotional Heaven Sent and the novella series, Fancy, are now available in paperback and in Kindle and Nook formats, as well as through Smashwords and Kobo. See information about both of these by clicking "Books" above.
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14 Responses to Different Than or Different From?

  1. Keep it coming, David! Thanks!

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  2. Absolutely, Amberr, but have you noticed how often it’s written “different than?”

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  3. This is one I did not know, at least not consciously, but I can’t remember what I would have done before reading this post. Lol. At least I’m aware of it now!

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  4. Pingback: Sunday Mash-Up: 07/22-28/2012 | Rhonda Hopkins

  5. I find these posts very helpful, David. Even if I know the rule but have forgotten why, you provide reminders. Thank you!

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  6. Julie Glover says:

    I grew up learning that it was “different from” and have insisted on that usage many times. However, I have lately stopped arguing the point because the usage seems to have changed so much that it’s not likely to return to “different from,” even though you point out exactly why that is so much better. Grammar Girl also recommends “from” instead of “than.” I certainly believe that using “from” puts a writer at a higher professional level regarding language usage. Interesting post, David!

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  7. Handy! My personal bugbear is ‘that’ or ‘which’ – the correct grammar is always ‘that…which’, and if an instance arises where one is to be used alone, it has to be ‘that’, not ‘which’.

    All this said, English is also a dynamic language and I guess in due course it will change. Already I’ve seen changes in my lifetime – ‘invitation’ seems to have been replaced by ‘invite’, for example (‘I’ve got an invite to the party’). Irritates me no end, but I guess we have to accept that change happens – and if it didn’t, we’d still be speaking like Chaucer.

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  8. This is very helpful! Another confusing point for English writers. Thanks David.

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