Column: What’s the difference?


Commentary by Curtis Honeycutt

When it comes to the finer things in life, some people have distinctly refined tastes. They can tell the difference between a St. Francis and a Sterling Cabernet Sauvignon. And, yes, I did just ask Google about fancy, expensive red wines in order to make that comparison. Others couldn’t tell one of Napa Valley’s best bottles of wine from a box of Franzia. In their opinion, both wines “get the job done,” so to speak.

Today, we’re looking at one of grammar’s narrow distinctions: When to use “different than” and when to use “different from.” If you think there’s not much difference, just consult with my reader inbox — I often get electronically scolded for using the wrong one by Grammar Guy’s most refined readers. So, grab your grammar ascots, because it’s about to get fancy up in here.

In general, “different from” is the preferred phrase among grammar aficionados. It’s an adjective phrase that is used to compare two things. Here are a few examples: Marty set himself apart from the rest of the field with his stunning flute solo. Although the new “Space Wars” movies had special effects different from the originals, I think they’re all pretty much the same movie.

Although “different than” shouldn’t be employed as often, it does have its merits. Like “different from,” “different than” is an adjective phrase used to compare two things. What makes it unique is that the phrase often gets divided. For example: Brian picked a different balloon animal than the one Noah picked. I understood Barry’s new neck tattoo to represent something much different than your interpretation. Mike took a different route than I did to get to the monster truck rally.

“Different from” is seen as the gold standard among editors, linguists and grammarians, although some people can’t really notice a difference (like in our wine example). In general, use “different from.” An easy way to remember this is that “from” starts with “f,” just like “formal” does. So, in any formal writing, make sure you use “different from.” The grammar enthusiasts will think you’re one of them.