Different from or different than?

October 16, 2009 by Dean Rieck
Filed under: Writing Basics 

This one always makes me stop and think. Should I write different from or different than?

By itself, the choice won’t affect whether someone buys the widget you’re selling, but it’s one of those little details that can add just a smidgen of extra clarity to your writing. In the aggregate, such things can improve your message and affect the response to your copy.

So, which one is correct? Different from or different than? Here’s what Elements of Style says:

Here logic supports established usage: one thing differs from another, hence, different from. Or, other than, unlike.

So that’s that. Different from is correct. But hold on, is it that simple? The University of Houston suggests that different than may sometimes be correct.

Here’s how they explain it:

Use different from for simple comparisons, as in comparing two persons or things.

Ex.:  My car is different from (not than) her car.

Ex.:  The book I bought is different from the one sold in the bookstore.

Because of increased use, different than is sometimes considered acceptable in American English. When in doubt, just use different from, as it is preferred by most people. According to the American Heritage Dictionary’s usage panel (1992),  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). Here’s an example:

Ex.:  It seems so different than Paris.

In this example, if different from were used, Paris, the city, would be the object of comparison.  Using different than creates a subtle distinction in meaning. Since different than is used, the clause following different than is interpreted as elliptical and suggests “the way things were in Paris” or “than Paris was” or “what happened in Paris.” If you have doubt when to use different than, you might just use different from following the parallel construction rule.

Clear as mud, right? Well, if you think about it, it does make sense. So noodle it for a while. But when in doubt, just use different from and you can’t go wrong.

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Smart Comments

3 Comments on Different from or different than?

  1. Mr. i on Oct 16th, 2009 2:01 pm
  2. Looks like my English teacher was great!

    I have habit of using “different from” and always use it. However, this article has cleared it all.
    .-= Mr. i’s last blog … Quick Design Checkup: Color Contrast =-.

  3. Laya Bajpai on Jan 8th, 2010 6:48 am
  4. I think different from would be more accurate as we are not comparing two things so as to bring out the superiority of one over the other, rather we are trying to bring out the difference. “He is different from the rest of his family members.”
    Good post!
    .-= Laya Bajpai’s last blog … The best free writer’s resources =-.

  5. Dressage Canin on Jun 13th, 2011 10:07 am
  6. I used to say “thing1 and thing2 are different”, in this case, i am not wrong. I did it when there was some doubt in using “different from” or “different than”. Now all is clear with your post.
    Thanks a lot