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Differences

Posted by Henry on March 25, 2004

In Reply to: Re: Sorry posted by R. Berg on March 25, 2004

: : : : : Tonight I saw an ad on TV for a local health fund (HCF). The opening line was... "HCF is different from other funds..." This made me cringe. I am not comfortable with "different from". I would have preferred "different to", or probably another sentence altogether frankly.

: : : : : Anyway, I can't really say why it had that effect on me. I believe (and maybe I'm dreaming) that I have a reasonable command of the English language and rules, but often it's based more on intuition, than a clear recollection of the rules.

: : : : : If I had to explain why some phrases make me cringe, I might well struggle, because I just feel, or know it's wrong, but can't remember the actual rules as to why.

: : : : : Am I alone here? Do many of us speak the language quite effectively because we learnt (or learned) the rules so far back that it's become something so ingrained that we can't remember why?

: : : : : And, if I'm feeling slack, or fooling around, or ensuring I don't alienate a certain business group, I often speak incorrectly, but I know I'm doing it, and I'm doing it deliberately.

: : : : : So OK, there are two questions here.

: : : : : To begin with, should it be "different from" (cringe) or "different to"?

: : : : : And do other people operate like I do, with a sense of knowing that somewhere way back in our psyche we learnt (learned?) the rules, but we've forgotten exactly what they are, but somehow we can still work with them?

: : : : : Pilots can do this. Drivers can do this.
: : : : : I learnt (learned) to check the mirrors (all of them) constantly, while driving. I now do it mechanically, mostly without realising, until someone points it out, or until I drive in a country you're suddenly sitting on the other side of the car.

: : : : : Just curious.

: : : : Err yeah!!! And the last sentence should have read... until I drive in a country WHERE you're suddenly sitting on the other side of the car.

: : : : But that wasn't a grammar problem, just a typing on red wine problem. Whole different issue!

: : : I also think that prepositions are tough. I haven't had much luck in finding
: : : a book that discusses troublesome pronouns. But I don't cringe when I hear
: : : 'different from' at least when used as follows: 'The sound she made when
: : : she opened the letter was different from any sound she ever made.' The
: : : substitution of 'different to' would make me cringe.

: : 'Pronouns' should be 'prepositions.'

: It's one of those trans-Atlantic things. "Different from" is standard American English when a substantive follows. When a clause (other than a noun clause) follows or is implied, "different than" is correct. "Different to" is standard British English.

Here's an interesting analysis from http://alt-usage-english.org/excerpts/fxdiffer.html

"different to", "different than" by Mark Israel
"Different from" is the construction that no one will object to. "Different to" is fairly common informally in the U.K., but rare in the U.S. "Different than" is sometimes used to avoid the cumbersome "different from that which", etc. (e.g., "a very different Pamela
than I used to leave all company and pleasure for" -- Samuel Richardson). Some U.S. speakers use "different than" exclusively. Some people have insisted on "different from" on the grounds that "from" is required after "to differ". But Fowler points out that there are many other adjectives that do not conform to the
construction of their parent verbs e.g., "accords with", but "according to"; "derogates from", but "derogatory to").

The Collins Cobuild Bank of English shows choice of preposition after "different" to be distributed as follows:
"from" "to" "than"
----- ---- ------
U.K. writing 87.6 10.8 1.5
U.K. speech 68.8 27.3 3.9
U.S. writing 92.7 0.3 7.0
U.S. speech 69.3 0.6 30.1