Is Different From different from Different Than or is Different From different than Different Than?

Confused yet? You’re not alone…General Grammar begins with a confession: I didn’t even realize this was an issue. It has not been among my grammar pet peeves; so, I was surprised by a request to discuss this topic. My personal ignorance of the issue led (not lead – remember that lesson?) me to the all-knowing Internet. (Note the hyphen in “all-knowing” – also for review from prior lesson.) My attention span for Internet searching is sadly short. So, after a very non-exhaustive search, I share the following 2 considerations.

different

The red jelly bean is different from… different than… a different color.

Consideration #1 – (gleaned from two different comments to a post on GrammarBook.com ) “DIFFER takes the preposition FROM (exclusively), for the simple and logical reason that, as the verb TO DIFFER implies [and thereby the adjective “different” as well – italics mine], it sets apart by EXCLUSION rather than BY DEGREE of COMPARISON. As in – This is different from that.” “THAN must always be coupled with a comparative adjective, as in “’more than.’”

Consideration #2 – (gleaned from the post itself on GrammarBook.com  “Different from is preferred to introduce a phrase; however, different than may also be used. Different than is preferred to introduce a clause; however, different from may be used if more words are added.” (And yes, apparently it matters what words are added…not just any extra words!) However, bottom line is that they are interchangeable. To cloud the issue further (oh rats…yet another topic: further vs. farther; alas, another day), “Differently is used as an adverb. Use differently than with a clause following. You may use differently from if you add extra wording.” (Extra words again? Whatever happened to being succinct?)

If you want to scramble your brains, here is a copy of the quiz included with the above blog ramblings:

Choose the preferred or correct word in each sentence.

1. This dress is different from/than the one in the catalog.
2. How is this salad dressing different from/than last night’s dressing?
3. His moustache made him look different from/than his brothers.
4. Chopsticks are very different to hold from/than forks and knives are. (Good grief, I had to fix the singular/plural mismatch on this one…can’t even trust another grammar site for good grammar!)
5. He treated me differently from/than I would have expected.
6. He treated me differently from/than what I would have expected.

Answers

1. different from (preferred because it introduces a phrase)
2. different from (preferred because it introduces a phrase)
3. different from (preferred because it introduces a phrase)
4. different than (preferred because it introduces a clause)
5. differently than
6. differently from

Now that we’ve suffered through this exercise, I see that the original “pirated” blog post was from July 2007. Current enlightenment is welcome if you care to comment. Otherwise, I’m not going to stress over this one; rewrite the sentence to avoid it. I spend too much time being ticked about other errors! Stay tuned for the next round of General Grousing…oops, I mean General Grammar, in which I will deal with one of MY big gripes. After all, this is all about me, right? 😉

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