Q: I started learning English when I was 14, and that was 30 years ago. I have always used “different from” rather than “different than” because I thought that was the correct usage. But I hear “different than” spoken by many people and see it used in newspapers and magazines. Which is correct? Does it matter?
A: It’s true that generally “different from” is correct. But when what IMMEDIATELY follows is a clause (complete with a subject and its verb), you want “different than.” Examples:
“Paris is DIFFERENT FROM London.”
“Paris is DIFFERENT THAN it used to be.”
However… “Paris is DIFFERENT FROM WHAT it used to be.” (The clause doesn’t immediately follow; there’s an intervening “what.”)
A good rule is to choose “from” instead of “than” if you can. Reason: ordinarily, “than” should follow a comparative adjective (like “larger” or “richer”), but “different” isn’t a true comparative. It contrasts; it doesn’t compare.
The British often use “different to” instead of “different from,” but the Oxford English Dictionary says the “usual construction is now with from.”
[Note: We later published a more complete post on this subject, which was updated on May 27, 2020. And on Dec. 20, 2021, we ran a post on “different” versus “disparate.”]
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