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I wish I had a dollar for every time I come across business communication with the phrase “different than” in it. The expression is so common I’ve actually seen people correct “different from” to “different than.” It’s wrong, folks, just plain wrong.

Careful writers and speakers will notice this error and remember you as a user of nonstandard English. Here’s my feeble explanation of why “different than” is a sign of bad English and how to catch on to that difference so you won’t be seen in bad light just because you used the wrong word.

When you start at Point A and go to Point B, you go “from” A to B. That’s how I learned the difference.

We say, “I’d rather live in Idaho than Oregon,” or “I like cherries better than apples,” but wouldn’t dream of using “from” in those expressions.

The word “different” needs to be followed by “from” when the writer or speaker is making a comparison that is explained after announcing that there is a comparison. “That’s different,” we may say in casual conversation. To support the sentence, we need to add something such as “That’s different from anything I’ve seen before…”

That may or may not help. This might. Say “different from” ten times a day, and then make up a sentence that uses the word “different from” to point to the fact that there is a difference between two people or objects.

Examples of “different than” (all wrong) that I’ve seen lately…

  • “But freedom of speech and that invitation to constructively criticize a public servant is a lot different than the allowance to lie, to continually falsely accuse a public servant when they have proven over and over again that they have not done what the accuser is saying they did.”–Sarah Palin, quoted in Think Progress.”
  • Three Reasons Why This Defense Cycle Is Different than Previous Cycles. Online investor consultant.
  • Absenteeism of Asthmatic Children Is No Different Than That of Their Non Asthmatic Peers. Medical News Today.

And contemporary examples of “different from” used correctly in headlines:

  • Swine flu (is) different from ordinary flu in a number of ways. Medical News.
  • Program management: Different from project management. IBM.
  • How’s discovery different from search? alt search engines

–Compliments of Griffith Publishing, experts in editing and writing for ordinary folks

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