Never Do This: “different than”

June 13, 2006

An idiom that often appears on college entrance examinations is "different from." Do not use the incorrect "different than."

This idiom can be remembered by changing the syntax of the sentence: in place of a linking verb and the adjective "different," use a form of "to differ."

  1. Bob is different from Sam in that the former is funny and the latter is not.
  2. Bob differs from Sam in that the former is funny and the latter is not.
  3. Bob is different than Sam in that the former is funny and the latter is not.
  4. Bob differs than Sam in that the former is funny and the latter is not.

While colloquial speech may have made the third sentence sound acceptable, the last sentence simply does not make sense. Just as "differs than" sounds silly, so should "different than."

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6 Responses to “Never Do This: “different than””

  1. Ahmed Says:

    Hello sure,

    I need to know about dicition. How to use diction in SAT and help me in SAT, university. write prefect essay without wrong diction.

  2. Gwillim Says:

    One way to look at it is that “than” is almost always preceded by a comparative adjective (or “other”):

    Bill has _darker_ freckles than Jane
    _Better_ the evil you know than the evil you don’t
    There are _more_ things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy
    You shall have no _other_ gods than me

    Although “different” implies a comparison, it is not a comparative adjective.


  3. Somehow i missed the point. Probably lost in translation :) Anyway … nice blog to visit.

    cheers, Industriously
    .


  4. […] by prescriptivists toward different than.  For some reason there are pages with titles like “Never do this: ‘different than’“. Man, so if you’re willing to come down so harshly on a construction, you’ve got […]

  5. Paul Leroux Says:

    Why not avoid the whole problem? Simply say “Bob is funny; Sam isn’t.”

    Whether you say “is different than” or “is different from”, you still end up with a needlessly long and unnatural sentence.

    – Paul


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