Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • adj. Unlike in form, quality, amount, or nature; dissimilar: took different approaches to the problem.
  • adj. Distinct or separate: That's a different issue altogether.
  • adj. Various or assorted: interviewed different members of the community.
  • adj. Differing from all others; unusual: a different point of view.
  • adv. In a different way or manner; otherwise: "Carol ... didn't know different until Elinor told her” ( Ben Brantley).

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • adj. Not the same; exhibiting a difference
  • adj. Various, assorted, diverse.
  • adj. Distinct, separate; used for emphasis after numbers and other determiners of quantity.
  • adj. Unlike most others; unusual.
  • n. The different ideal.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • adj. Distinct; separate; not the same; other.
  • adj. Of various or contrary nature, form, or quality; partially or totally unlike; dissimilar

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • Not the same; two; many; plural; also, characterized by a difference or distinction; various or contrary in nature, form, or quality; unlike; dissimilar.
  • [When in the predicate, different is either used absolutely: as, the two things are very different; or followed by from: as, the two things are very different from each other; he is very different from his brother. But the relation of opposition is often lost in that of mere comparison, leading to the use of to instead of from. This use is regarded as colloquial or incorrect, and is generally avoided by careful writers.
  • Synonyms Different, Distinct, Separate, Several. These words agree in being the opposite of same. Different applies to nature or quality as well as to state of being: as, the African and Asiatic climates are very different. The other three words are primarily physical, and are still affected by that fact: we speak of distinct or separate, ideas, colors, sounds, etc. Several is used chiefly of those things which are in some sense together without merging their identity: as, three several bands.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • adj. unlike in nature or quality or form or degree
  • adj. marked by dissimilarity
  • adj. distinctly separate from the first
  • adj. differing from all others; not ordinary
  • adj. distinct or separate

Etymologies

Middle English, from Old French, from Latin differēns, different-, present participle of differre, to differ; see differ.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
From Middle English, from Latin differēns, present active participle of differō ("I differ"); see differ. (Wiktionary)

Examples

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Comments

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  • This list of Verbs-Prepositions might help some people.

    November 10, 2008

  • I think you're probably right, VO:
    - there is a symmetrical/asymmetrical distinction that's worth preserving, and
    - it is definitely time for something completely different.

    November 8, 2008

  • I just want to add a note about other, before someone asks: on the face of it 'X is other than Y' does look equivalent to 'Y is other than X', maybe because it looks like a statement of non-identity, and identity is symmetrical. However, whereas XY (X and Y together) is clearly non-identical to X, it doesn't seem other than X, since it incorporates X; whereas X does seem to me to be other than XY, or at least sometimes so, on the assumption that e.g. my liver is other than me, since it could be a functioning transplanted organ in someone else after 'I' have ceased to be. However, I appreciate that needs further tightening up (am I maybe just conflating senses of other?); am I boring anyone yet? Maybe we should stop trying to save pterodactyl and try something completely different...

    November 8, 2008

  • All right--who's the wag who tagged this page "Monty Python"? :-)

    November 8, 2008

  • I agree that difference is about emphasising a metaphorical distance--hence my place in the from camp. But I further contended that usage of than in all suggested cases other than for different is not merely about difference but reflects a logical distinction between symmetrical and asymmetrical relationships: than appears in cases where the difference is expressed asymmetrically ('X is different from Y' is logically equivalent to 'Y is different from X'; 'X is greater than Y' isn't equivalent to 'Y is greater than X'). Once you extend than to symmetrical cases, it seems no less arbitrary to me to resist extending it to logically equivalent symmetrical cases ('X is different than Y and not similar than Y').

    There's no Académie anglaise to prevent your making arbitrary choices to suit your sense of euphony, just as there's no authority to persuade me that 'the rules are different for men from those for women' is an unworkably clumsy construction (I already speak a language that uses the in order + inf. construction; am I right in thinking Chaucer's for to seeke is equivalent to French pour + inf., and we've somehow lost it?); but treating different and rather as expressing the same kind of difference seems to me logically mistaken, not just syntactically/semantically. Of course, as a philosophy postgrad. I have a particular interest in preserving any logical distinctions expressed in syntax.

    November 8, 2008

  • "Different from" seems to be best used when it's followed by an object of the preposition. "Different than" seems to be used when it's followed by a situation. (As in sionnach's examples.)

    November 7, 2008

  • Thank you, sionnach, for the mea culpa. 25 points have been deducted.

    I note that your bicycle impersonations are still manifestly inadequate.

    November 7, 2008

  • I retract my earlier blanket pronouncement, due to sentences like the following:

    The rules are different for men than for women.

    His financial situation while he was living in Princeton was quite different than when he was in Chicago.

    But I still prefer 'different from' whenever possible.

    November 7, 2008

  • I have to agree with the Chicago Manual. There are some constructions that just don't allow you to use "different from", and in these cases, "different than" is the only possible substitute.

    In response to VanishedOne: I'd argue that the choice of "than" to follow rather, other, and different is not based just on syntax, but also on semantics. To my ear, the word than gives a sense of differentiation, of distinguishing between two things. Likewise, the meanings of rather, other, and different all have to do with distinguishing two things, setting them apart from each other. The meaning of similar is quite the opposite: calling two things "similar" makes them less distinguishable, draws them closer together.

    So, "similar than" is a contradiction.

    What do you think?

    November 7, 2008

  • Here's what Chicago Manual of Style (15th ed.) says, for what it's worth: "The phrasing different from is generally preferable to different than this company is different from that one, but sometimes the adverbial phrase different than is all but required she described the scene differently than he did." No mention of "different to."

    Sometimes you can avoid making the choice completely by using the verb "differ(s)"--then you're forced to use "from." I try to do that so as not to make myself crazier than I already am. :-)

    November 7, 2008

  • I beg to differ...
    "A sionnach is different as a bicycle."

    November 7, 2008

  • A sionnach is different from a bicycle. No other possibility is admissible. Case closed.

    November 7, 2008

  • I second chained_bear's comment.

    November 7, 2008

  • I second yarb's comment.

    November 7, 2008

  • Off the top of my head: the rather/other cases, like those with scales of comparison, seem to involve evaluating one thing against the standard set by another, relative to a given difference: e.g. X is cheaper than Y, so we'll buy X rather than Y (where Y is the standard). Whereas an assertion of difference doesn't involve comparing X with Y in respect of some difference, but rather asserting the respect in which they differ itself: difference is a symmetrical relationship (if X differs from Y, then Y differs from X to the same extent), whereas than is maybe suited to asymmetrical cases: if X is greater than Y, Y is lesser than X.

    My diabolical advocacy in turn: if 'different than', also 'similar than'? Difference and similarity are both symmetrical relationships; they express degrees of resemblance...

    November 7, 2008

  • The overwhelming sentiment on this page seems to be against "different than", so let me play devil's advocate for a moment: what about "other than" and "rather than"? Are they acceptable? And if they are, what's the relevant difference between them and "different than"?

    November 7, 2008

  • Wow... some excellent analyses on this page -- thanks, guys!

    Yes, qroqqa, I can confirm from experience that most American speakers do not have "different to", and of the two options we do have, "different than" is by far the most popular. I rarely hear "different from", and when I do, it's usually in formal settings only.

    November 7, 2008

  • But bilby, Rumpelstiltskin is different.

    November 6, 2008

  • Adjectives that are comparative in form can take a special kind of clause complement, the comparative clause:

    This crossword is easier than it used to be.
    This bicycle is faster than it used to be.

    'Different' is semantically parallel, though not formally comparative, so it is natural by analogy to use it with comparative clauses:

    ?This situation is different than it used to be.

    I use that, though I'm more likely to phrase it with 'to'/'from' and a noun phrase (namely a fused relative, a clause attached to a wh-word):

    This situation is different to/from what it used to be.

    Analogy doesn't always work, because while both 'to' and 'from' are acceptable with the adjective, the verb only takes 'from'.

    *This one differs to that.

    This is all modulo dialect differences: 'different than ' is not grammatical in my (standard BrE) and similar dialects. And apparently some speakers don't have 'different to', according to pterodactyl.

    November 6, 2008

  • Cordigal! Must be an Australian foible *blushes*

    November 6, 2008

  • That sounds like my cousin learning to say cordial, elgiad.
    He would repeat each syllable after his mother perfectly, but when the time came to say the whole word it was always cordigal.

    November 6, 2008

  • The real sin here was not listing this on Word-Offs, ptero. 50 points have been deducted.

    November 6, 2008

  • Different from! From! Argh!

    November 6, 2008

  • I'll never forgot how my stepson used to pronounce the word "different" (he was about 4 years old): drinfent. It took many tries, but he finally got it.

    Me: "Say it slowly, diff-er-ent."
    Him: "Diff-er-ent....drinfent!"

    November 6, 2008

  • 'The situation is different than it used to be' looks passing ugly to me, and verging on meaninglessness. Different seems more an adjective (positive) rather a comparative which is where I think the difficulty creeps in. How can one compare 'the situation' to 'it used to be'? The problem is that different has the air of a comparative.
    Consider these examples:
    'A sionnach is different to a bicycle.'
    'A sionnach is different from a bicycle.'
    'A sionnach is different than a bicycle.' *hork*
    Now put a genuine comparative (eg. faster, cheaper, more fun, sillier, etc.) in the place of different and see what happens.
    'A sionnach is faster to a bicycle.' *hork*
    'A sionnach is faster from a bicycle.' *hork*
    'A sionnach is faster than a bicycle.'
    The approach of considering different an adjective is vexed, however, because it can perform awkwardly. eg.
    Rumpelstiltskin is funny.
    Rumpelstiltskin is different. *hork*
    You could also go back to the verbal form and see what that tells us:
    'Frogs differ from zombies.'
    'Frogs differ to zombies.'
    'Frogs differ than zombies.' *hork*

    With to, I would say 'different to what it used to be'.

    November 6, 2008

  • From for me; I tend to associate than with degrees of comparison, hence a narrower sense than difference generally construed.

    November 6, 2008

  • I ask because I'm considering switching my personal usage from "different from" to "different than", in order to allow constructions such as "The situation is different than it used to be." (The equivalent construction using "from" is "The situation is different from how it used to be", which sounds clumsy.)

    I'm especially interested in "different to", which I never hear in the US, but which presents itself as a tantalizing third option. How would "to" fit into the above example?

    November 6, 2008

  • A quick poll: which of the following do you use?

    - "different from"
    - "different than"
    - "different to"

    November 6, 2008