Word Confusion: Different From vs Different Than vs Different To

Posted November 24, 2014 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Self-Editing, Word Confusions, Writing

Revised as of 17 February 2018

This Word Confusion is a tricky bugger. The different to is pretty simple, and being a British preference, it’s not a confusion American authors are likely to run into. Unless, of course, one of our characters is English. Mmmm, nothing like complicating things up *grin*.

Different from and different than are MUCH more difficult. I spend more time exploring, tasting, trying out different possibilities, ways of looking at this one. And I gotta confess, I generally have this urge to side with different from. I don’t know if the one feels warmer, more comfortable to me or what. Maybe it’s just easier to drift into using this one.

Word Confusions…

…started as my way of dealing with a professional frustration with properly spelled words that were out of context in manuscripts I was editing as well as books I was reviewing. It evolved into a sharing of information with y’all. I’m hoping you’ll share with us words that have been a bête noir for you from either end.

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Different From Different Than Different To
Credit to: Dictionary.com; Apple Dictionary.com; Oxford Dictionaries; GrammarBook.com; Grammar.com; Daily Writing Tips

“Man and Woman Icon” courtesy of AnonMoos is in the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Woman is different from Man.

Photo of San Diego on the left and the densely populated Tijuana on the right

“Border USA Mexico” by Sgt. 1st Class Gordon Hyde is in the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

The city of San Diego on the left side of the demarcation is different than the city of Tijuana on the right side.

Dog peeing on tree

Cat scratching tree

Upper image, “Dog Marking Territory“, by Scarleth White [Flickr] is under the CC-BY-2.0 license. The lower image, “Cat Climbing Tree” by sumomojam from Saitama, Japan, is under the CC-BY-SA-2.1-jp license; both are via Wikimedia Commons.

How a dog sees a tree is different to how a cat sees one.

Part of Grammar:
Adjective + Preposition Adjective + Conjunction Adjective + Preposition
Different is a word of contrast and does not compare.
Universally accepted Comparative adjective + different than + clause British preference
Implies exclusion Implies comparison
Followed by a noun or noun form and/or creates a prepositional phrase

When something differs, it implies another, from which it is distinguished.

Preferred by AP Stylebook and Element of Style

Can be useful for idioms or beginning clauses Opposite of similar to
These shirts are different from the ones I bought last year.

My birthday this year was different from what it was last year.

A Lotus Esprit is different from a Volkswagen.

Conservatives are different from liberals.

My choice of clothing is different from yours.

This is different from that.

This experience was different than he thought it would be.

My birthday this year was different than it was last year.

The event turned out different than what I expected.

The college is different than it was when I went to school.

In this respect the Royal Academy is no different to any other major museum.

A tree looks completely different to cats than it does to dogs.

History of the Word:
First known use: 1590 First known use: 1644 First known use: 1560

C’mon, get it out of your system, bitch, whine, moan…which words are your pet peeves?

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Pinterest Photo Credits

Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus by John Gray, Ph.D., is published by HarperCollins.

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