Column: Different ‘to,’ ‘from’ or ‘than?’

Question: “Your column is a favorite read, and I hope I have not missed what you have to say about the proper use of the words ‘from’ and ‘than’ when making comparisons. It seems as though one rarely hears the use of ‘from’ these days. Is it not proper to say: ‘That book (or whatever item or person) is different from the second one?’ Thank you.” – (Rosemarie)

Answer: Thank you for writing in, Rosemarie! This column doesn’t happen without readers like you.

The choice of “from,” “to” or “than” following “different” in comparisons is largely one of personal preference – albeit one influenced by nationality.

“Different from” is “by far the most common” choice in both American and British English, according to the Oxford Dictionaries. For our other two choices, Oxford says “different than” is more popular in America, and “different to” is used more across the pond (technically Oxford’s writer’s would probably say we’re the “across the pond” ones … but hey, it’s my column).

Interestingly, “different than” has historically been the target of derision among some grammarphiles. Why? Snobbery! Pure snobbery, I tell you!

From our friends at Merriam-Webster: “Numerous commentators have condemned ‘different than’ in spite of its use since the 17th century by many of the best-known names in English literature. It is nevertheless standard and is even recommended in many handbooks when followed by a clause, because insisting on ‘from’ in such instances often produces clumsy or wordy formulations.”

Here’s the takeaway: “From,” “than” and “to” all have their place. Mix it up. Get creative. Or stick to your favorite. There’s no judgment here.