Friday, October 4, 2013

How "different from" is different from "different than"

Different from New York.
I suppose it's a rather minor matter in the world of writing. Whether to use "different from" or "different than" is different from more serious issues, such as getting your subject to agree with you verb.

However, to people who do this stuff for a living it does matter. You can find a lively discussion in a Linked In group called LinkEds & Writers. It's not for the faint of heart, and you may well have to join the group to see what editorial sausage making looks like, which is a blessing.

I googled around and found an explanation I like at a University of Houston - Victoria website. Here's the thing: you're not going to jail if you don't follow the rules here. But it's good to know. You can, for instance, amaze a total stranger at a cocktail party with your newfound knowledge.

David Felts writes:

What is the difference?
In the 18th century, different than began to be seen as unacceptable in certain situations. This view has survived for the most part. Many grammar books, such as Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style, argue against using different than. Different from is preferred and considered correct, but different than is considered acceptable on some occasions.

When to use different from
Use different from for simple comparisons, as in comparing two persons or things.
Ex.: My car is different from (not than) her car.
Ex.: The book I bought is different from the one sold in the bookstore.
It is important to remember that when using different from, the two things being compared (e.g. my car and her car in the first example) should have the same grammatical structure. This is called parallel construction. Here are a couple of examples:
Ex.: People in the field of literature write differently from people in the field of business.
Ex.: People in the field of literature write differently from those in the field of business.
When different than is acceptable
Because of increased use, different than is sometimes considered acceptable in American English. When in doubt, just use different from, as it is preferred by most people. According to the American Heritage Dictionary’s usage panel (1992), different than is acceptable only if the words following different than make up a clause—especially if the clause is elliptical (referring to an aforementioned context without restating it). Here’s an example:
Ex.: It seems so different than Paris.
In this example, if different from were used, Paris, the city, would be the object of comparison. Using different than creates a subtle distinction in meaning. Since different than is used, the clause following different than is interpreted as elliptical and suggests “the way things were in Paris” or "than Paris was" or “what happened in Paris.” If you have doubt when to use different than, you might just use different from following the parallel construction rule.

So there you are. Thanks, David. I wonder if he's ever been to Paris. I haven't.

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