‘Different from’ vs. ‘different than’ vs. ‘different to’ in English

by Jakub Marian

Tip: See my list of the Most Common Mistakes in English. It will teach you how to avoid mis­takes with com­mas, pre­pos­i­tions, ir­reg­u­lar verbs, and much more (PDF Version).

Is the meaning of “different from” different to “different than” and that of “different than” different from “different to”? I am just joking, but hopefully I’ve got my message across, namely that there’s no difference in meaning between (or among?) the three expressions.

The only difference is that of commonness. “Different from” (as in “A is different from B”) is by far the most common one. “Different than” is used to a certain degree in the United States and not so much in the UK, whereas “different to” is somewhat common in British English but uncommon in American English. Nevertheless, if you use any of the three on either side of the Atlantic, you will be understood.

One significant difference in usage is that “than” can be used in combination with another preposition, while “from” and “to” can’t. For example, you could say,

The situation is different than in the past. (possible)
The situation is different from in the past. (wrong)
The situation is different to in the past. (wrong)

Expressions like “than in the past” can be understood as abbreviations of subordinate clauses, in this case “than it was in the past”. “Different than” is the only form that can introduce a subordinate clause:

The situation is different than it was in the past. (correct)
The situation is different from it was in the past. (wrong)
The situation is different to it was in the past. (wrong)

The other two variants require an object after the preposition, so the sentence above could be rephrased as

The situation is different from what it was in the past.
The situation is different to what it was in the past.

This article was based on my guide to the most common mistakes in English, which explains many similar topics. Why don’t you check it out?

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