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Enjoying God Blog


Among the more common grammatical mistakes people make is the use of “different than” instead of the more proper “different from.” Here are some examples:

“He looks different than he did five years ago.”
“Her hairstyle is different than mine.”
“His new i-Phone is significantly different than the one I have.”

Most people think there’s nothing wrong with any of these sentences. What’s wrong is that “different” is not a comparative adjective. A comparative adjective takes the conjunction “than.” For example:

“Usain Bolt runs faster than anyone else in the world.”
“My i-Phone is better than yours.”
“Her father is nicer than my father.”

But the word “different” is not drawing a comparison as are the adjectives “faster,” “better,” and “nicer.” Different is used to draw a distinction and must be followed by the preposition “from.” Other similar examples would be “distinct from” and “separate from.”

The argument has been made that in some cases “different than” is preferable, if not for strictly grammatical reasons, then for the way it strikes the ear. For example, “Life is different here in Oklahoma City than in Dallas.” If we were to insist on “different from” it would result in the somewhat cumbersome sentence, “Life is different here in Oklahoma City from the way it is in Dallas,” or perhaps “Life is different here in Oklahoma City from life in Dallas.” But wouldn’t an even better solution be something along the lines of, “Life in Oklahoma City is different from life in Dallas”?

My friend Dean Bertsch often illustrates the point by asking, “Does something differ from something else, or does it differ than something else?” When put that way, it makes so much sense. No one would say, “This differs than what I expected.”

My guess is that I’m arguing for a lost cause. “Different than” is appearing everywhere, even in the literature of skilled authors. I fear that this doesn’t bode well for grammatical dinosaurs such as myself. We are assuredly on the verge of extinction.

(with assistance from Dean Bertsch)


1 Comment

Let me throw in an old grammar teaching that has gone the way of the Edsel. I was taught (graduated HS in 1959) that you always used commas to separate a series such as: I am now the proud owner of 1 glove, 2 baseballs, and a blister on my index finger. Modern journalism classes evidentially teach that the last comma is superfluous while I was taught that the absense of the last comma tied the last two items together. Today, almost all writers would show: I am the proud owner of 1 glove, 2 baseballs and a blister on my index finger. Makes much less sense to me without the last comma. What say ye?

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