The Grammar Owl has been pondering a conundrum. Is the correct way to say something is not like something else “different to” or “different from” or “different than“?
In certain instances, any of those possibilities is correct. (Thanks a lot, Beth. That’s really helpful. Not.) Let me explain.
“Different to” is a phrase most often used in Britain, and I’d extrapolate that perhaps also in countries whose use of the language has been influenced strongly by British ways of phrasing. “Different from” is more often American.
But it doesn’t stop there. In North America, particularly, we hear “different than” often, particularly in speech. It’s perhaps more colloquial than using “different from” but it’s becoming more accepted.
Generally, you can use either. “Her dress is different from mine.” “Her dress is different than mine.” Both those sentences mean the same without the addition or subtraction of words.
However, in a sentence such as “The menu choices are different than they were last week”, from is not readily interchangeable with than. It wouldn’t be correct to write “The menu choices are different from they were last week.” In such a case, you need to add a noun or pronoun to act as the object of from. “The menu choices are different from what they were last week.”
As I said earlier, “different than” is a less formal phrase. In formal writing, it’s best to stick with “different from” (or “different to” if you’re in Britain).
The Grammar Owl would love to hear from you. Please send any grammar or word use questions you have to mail (at) flubs2fixes (dot) com with GRAMMAR OWL in the subject line. I won’t use your name in the post, so don’t worry about that. But the Owl and I would welcome your questions!
Until next time, here’s to making a difference with our writing, whether it’s different than, different from, or different to!