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Different from/than

Posted by R. Berg on March 25, 2004

In Reply to: I saw what you meant. posted by Smokey Stover 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!

: : If one thing differs from another, then some people, but not me, insist that one thing is different from another. Learn gives both learnt and learned, just as spell gives spelt and spelled.

: I dived? I dove? I care? I noticed something mildly interesting in reading the above postings. One poster boy posted "...country you're...", omitting the word "where"; in another post included "troublesome pronouns" (sc. prepositions). I had to have both mistakes pointed out to me, since I read "country where" when the "where" was missing, and "prepositions" where the post had "pronouns." I guess it's true, context is everything. But on to the piece de resistance, "different from, than, to." As it happens, Fowler is intolerant of anything other than "different from." He apparently believe that if you need to say "different than," then you are mistaken; or you need to substitute "differently" (because you are using it adverbially); or you need to re-write either the whole sentence or that part of it that follows different. There are times when I've said "different than," but I have also sometimes used (colloquially) "like" as a conjunction, and have often failed to follow correct number agreement. There are people who swear by Fowler (Dictionary of Modern English Usage), and, forgive me, those who swear at him. But his sun has dimmed, and there are probably few people in the English-teaching business who have heard of him, fewer yet who have slogged through the book. I've read it all, and consider it wonderful food for thought, extreme opinions and all. The statistics educed by Henry are reassuring, in a way. The language has certainly not become set in stone. SS

Does anyone say "This soup tastes different from it did last night?"

I think Fowler is used more by editors than by English teachers.