Different from/different than

If you want to set off a fury among some language purists, use the construction “different than” in a sentence like this: Flounder tastes different than snapper. When we compare two things, we American English speakers use “different from.” We reserve “different than” for use before a full clause. Broiled flounder tastes different than it would if it were fried.

As Theodore M. Bernstein says in “The Careful Writer,” a writer never goes wrong if he or she sticks to “different from.” Then Bernstein goes on to explore whether “different” is a comparative adjective, like “greener” or “sweeter,” and can be used with “than.” He concludes that it makes no sense to use “different than” to compare two nouns. He gives example sentences that show when “different than” works. I won’t go into all of them in this post, but here is one, using our flounder: How different the flounder tastes baked with butter than with cooking spray.

Here is the American Heritage Book of English Usage on “different from/different than.” Professor Paul Brians weighs in, too, in Common Errors in English.

You will find many examples of “different than” in print. You will also find many usage sticklers gritting their teeth when they read such examples. Take Bernstein’s advice and stick to “different from.”

This article was originally posted by the Raleigh News & Observer, a subsidiary of The McClatchy Co.; is posted here to provide continuity; and is copyright © 2011 The News & Observer Publishing Company, which reserves the right to remove this post.