Word Choice: Different From, Different To or Different Than?
  • 3-minute read
  • 17th November 2018

Word Choice: Different From, Different To or Different Than?

Have you ever noticed that British English is different to American English? But wait! Is that last sentence written correctly? Or should it be ‘different from’ or ‘different than’ instead?

We’re asked this question fairly often here at Proofreading Towers, so we’ve prepared this quick guide to using the phrases ‘different from’, ‘different to’ and ‘different than’ in your written work.

Differing Options

‘From’, ‘than’ and ‘to’ can all be used as prepositions. This means they specify a relationship between words in a sentence. When they follow the word ‘different’, for example, all of these terms suggest a comparison between two things that are not alike. For instance:

Apples are different from oranges.

Here, ‘different from’ indicates that apples are oranges are distinct from each other. But we could also write this sentence using either ‘to’ or ‘than’:

Apples are different to oranges.

Apples are different than oranges.

All of these sentences mean the same thing, so most of the time these terms are interchangeable. But if you want your writing to be regionally specific, you may want to keep the following in mind.

Definitely different.
Definitely different.
(Photo: MicroAssist/flickr)

Regional Differences

The one big difference between these terms is that ‘different from’ and ‘different to’ are standard in British English. ‘Different than’, meanwhile, is primarily used in American English.

Generally, then, you will want to avoid ‘different than’ when writing for a British audience. If you are writing for an American audience, however, ‘different than’ is fine. But you might want to avoid ‘different to’, which is not typically used in American English.

Luckily, ‘different from’ is the most common of these phrases in all regional variations of English. You can therefore use it with confidence in any piece of writing. But if you do use ‘different to’ or ‘different than’, remember that they may be non-standard in some parts of the world (as illustrated below).


British English

American English

Different from…

Different to…

Different than…

= Standard, = Non-standard

Summary: Different From, To or Than?

You can use any of ‘from’, ‘to’ or ‘than’ after the word ‘different’ to make a comparison. In this context, all these words do the same thing (i.e. link to two things that are being compared).

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In addition, ‘different from’ is far more common than ‘different to’ and ‘different than’ in all regional variations of English. As a result, we recommend using this term if you want to be sure your writing is always correct regardless of where in the world your readers may be.

Comments (28)
P Bown
30th January 2020 at 16:35
I am English, English ethnicity ('English' is not just a language, I can assure you) of English parents of and I was born and live in England and taught English language through the 60s and 70s by teachers who were also English. Anything other than 'different to' sounds alien and plain wrong to me. Still, if I lived in the U.S I supposed I'd do it differently. But I dont, so I'll stick with 'to'!
    30th January 2020 at 16:49
    That's fine, P: you're welcome to use whichever formulation you like as long as your meaning is clear (communication is the goal, after all). However, 'different from' has been common in British English since at least the 19th century, so it isn't new at all! You can see this if you check the use of all three terms in published books over time: e.g. https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=different+from%2Cdifferent+to%2Cdifferent+than&year_start=1800&year_end=2008&corpus=18&smoothing=3&share=&direct_url=t1%3B%2Cdifferent%20from%3B%2Cc0%3B.t1%3B%2Cdifferent%20to%3B%2Cc0%3B.t1%3B%2Cdifferent%20than%3B%2Cc0 We hope this helps!
Julian Whettam
21st February 2020 at 11:19
I'm British, and I tend to agree with P Brown: "different to" sounds right, but "different from" kind of doesn't, although maybe it makes sense if you think of "different" in a ...different... way! (Sorry!). "Different than" may be common in the US, but if so surely it's a corrupted use, i.e. it's become commonly acceptable as standard, despite being grammatically incorrect in the US (as well as the UK). The American dictionary Merriam Webster seems to reflect this, as its entries on "than" and "different" are effectively contradictory on this issue. It says that "than" needs to be used with a comparative adjective: E.g. bigger than, louder than, more convincing than. On this basis, the only time "different than" seems to make grammatical sense, therefore, is where it involves a comparison of levels of difference, such as: "Snowboarding and cycling are both different to skiing, but cycling is more different to skiing than snowboarding is." However, Merriam Webster's entry on "different" says it is "often followed by 'from', 'than', or (chiefly British) 'to'" - which contradicts the entry on "than". So I suggest that this is an example of a usage which in principle is grammatically incorrect, but is considered grammatically correct nonetheless, because it's standard usage (in the US). Another example of the same kind of thing, and one that's often said in the UK is that you might "get something for free". Grammatically speaking you should "get something free", or "get something for" a named price of some kind: for a pound, for a song (i.e. for next to nothing) or for nothing. "Free" means "free of charge" or "for nothing" - so it shouldn't really be preceded by "for". But it's become standard and normal in UK English.
    21st February 2020 at 11:41
    Hi, Julian. Thanks for your input. As with all of these things, convention is most important: if something is in common usage and has been for enough time it becomes part of standard English, and that's why standard English changes over time. Such is the case with 'different from', which has been standard for a long time. And 'different than' is entirely grammatical, just less common in British English. If 'different to' sounds right to you, then it's certainly accepted in British English and you're more than welcome to use it: the only potential exception is if you were writing for an American audience to whom it may sound strange, in which case you may want to adapt your language to match. That's why it's worth knowing the variations we discuss here!
      P Rattenbury
      30th March 2021 at 13:32
      Like P Brown, I too am English, f English ancestry and educated in a grammar school in northwest London in the early 1960s. My degree-qualifed English teacher taught us that we should NEVER use any preposition other than 'from' with the word 'different'. Anything else is anathema to me.
      30th March 2021 at 16:58
      Hi, P. 'Different from' is the most common form by far in all English dialects (as we discuss in the post). But 'different to' and 'different than' are both used, too, and as long as one's meaning is clear in context there's room for a bit of flexibility here; nobody will force you to use either, though, so it shouldn't be too much of a problem as long as you don't find seeing them used elsewhere irksome as well!
Julian Whettam
21st February 2020 at 11:52
A further thought: with the word "differ" I would always use "from", and never "to". E.g. "Dave's approach differs from everyone else's." So logically it HAS to be correct to say "different from", although for some unexplained reason I have an instinctive feeling that if you want to be really correct it should be "different to". Could it be one of those made-up (and maybe British?) rules like not splitting infinitives?
    27th January 2021 at 01:06
    Thank you so much for clearing this up! I’ve only seen “different to” the last couple of years or so in books. It sounds very weird to me, but I live in the USA. I wondered what happened to “different from” because everything I read uses “different to”. Now I know. :)
Julian Whettam
21st February 2020 at 12:00
Thanks for your answer to my first comment. I don't agree that "different than" is ENTIRELY grammatical. As I suggested, I think it's grammatical (and therefore correct in the US) insofar as it's become standard usage, but it doesn't really make grammatical sense. While "more different" is a comparative adjective, "different" is not. I agree about the situational awareness. So when addressing Americans, "different to" sounds strange, and when addressing British people, "different than" sounds wrong. Having said that, my experience is that some Americans just enjoy hearing the way Brits say things!
24th July 2020 at 20:49
I am a native Londoner and I have always thought that "different to" sounds wrong and "different from" sounds right. It could be just a matter of education and/or taste but it seems rational. After all "to" is related to "towards" and "from" is related to "away from"; if A is different from B then A is surely moving away from B rather than towards it
    25th July 2020 at 11:27
    Hi, Broglet. As we mention in the post, 'different from' is the most common version of this phrase, so it will naturally sound more familiar to most people. As for 'to' and 'from', both are prepositions with multiple meanings, so their uses in this context aren't really related to 'towards' or 'away from'. 'To' is used to make comparisons or express contrasts in other cases, for instance, such as: 'Next to tea, coffee is my favourite hot drink.' 'Compared to me, you read a lot of books.' 'He won by six games to three.' And like 'different to', the senses of 'to' we see here aren't really related to 'towards'. It's just that prepositions often have a lot of different uses. Hope that helps!
Brian Lovatt
15th August 2020 at 19:09
We were told as children it’s similar to and different from
    18th August 2020 at 10:06
    Hi, Brian. Yup, as we say in the post, 'different from' is the most common phrasing here, though 'different to' and 'different than' are both fairly common in their respective dialects as well.
Nicolas Ruch
22nd August 2020 at 18:49
Surely it is different from. I was always taught that. Different has an ablative slant to it, so axiomatically it should be followed by "from". Take an opposite meaning to different, eg: similar. This has a dative slant and so should be followed by "to", ie: similar to. In my view the Latin is crucial in determining this argument.
    24th August 2020 at 13:51
    Hi, Nicholas. The Latin roots of 'different' may well be why 'different from' has felt more natural to some English speakers over the years (give or take the Germanic origins of 'from'). However, 'different to' and 'different than' are both widely accepted in modern usage (albeit mostly on opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean).
George Minister
8th September 2020 at 15:18
Similar to / different from..... "To" suggests closeness, "from" suggests distance.
    8th September 2020 at 15:25
    Hi, George. Both forms are accepted in modern English, so 'different to' is fine as long as the meaning is clear. As a side note, though, we can't rely too heavily on other uses of 'to' and 'from' to guide us here as these words have different meanings in different contexts (e.g. 'Moments from destruction...' implies that destruction is imminent, not distant, since 'from' here only specifies a relationship of temporal proximity, not how close or far away the things specified are). Just something worth keeping in mind!
      Roy clements
      22nd November 2021 at 19:40
      Different “from” surely? Something differs from something else, it doesn’t differ to or than.
      23rd November 2021 at 09:17
      Hi, Roy. As explained in this post, 'different from' is the most common form, so that is fine, yes. But 'different to' and 'different than' are both acceptable, too. 'Differ' is a different word (a verb rather than an adjective), so you can't necessarily apply the same grammatical conventions to it.
11th January 2021 at 02:17
Very interesting article. I've NEVER heard "different than"!! And I find it annoying whenever I type "different to" and get prompted by Grammarly to correct it to "different from". I really love this site. After reading the page in default US English, I was able to change it to UK English and read it from a different perspective. My nationality is different to/from/than UK or US, but I "think" UK for correctness.
    11th January 2021 at 10:07
    Glad the different perspectives help, Anthony!
Stephen Ogbodo
6th May 2021 at 18:12
Thanks for this illuminating article. As a Nigerian, I have always struggled to navigate between UK and US versions of the English language. I am currently pursuing a master's degree at the University of Glasgow and was surprised to find that our lecture materials are frequently written in American English. To say the least, the "different from/to/than" quagmire frequently gives me headaches. As a young Nigerian boy, our heavily British syllabus taught me "similar to & different from". But people always want to sound fancy and unique, hence the multiple variants. I am grateful for this succinct clarification. I'll be sticking to "different from".
Mike Hale
17th October 2021 at 20:52
Its quite simple - as taught to me by my Mum (University English Lecturer) 60 years ago. Correct Form: Similar to (convergence). Different from (divergence). Incorrect Form: Similar from (confusion with convergence into divergence). Different to (confusion with divergence leading into convergence). People have the same problem with Compare. Correct Form: Compare to (convergence into convergence) Incorrect Form: Compare with (convergence into parallel) 'It's logical captain' if you think of it. Now then Phasers to stun, let us find an infinitive to split! And before the Capital Letter Police jump into action; as Old Man Collinson (Senior Don at Cambridge an eon ago) told me: No one will charge you for the extra ink capital letters need; use them liberally dear boy.
    18th October 2021 at 10:38
    Hi, Mike. Thanks for your contribution. As elsewhere, the information in our post was based on current usage, including trends in different dialects, but it is good to get a range of perspectives on this (and the 'compare' distinction is still a bit more prevalent in modern English than the 'different' one, albeit moreso in American English than British English). We'd probably be a bit keener on sticking to standard capitalisation than you are, though!
13th November 2021 at 11:10
Now, almost 90 years of age, I remember quite clearly from my Bradford Grammar School a number of quotes about proper sentence structure in both English and French, the French about 'double infinitives' that I can quote to this day. Another on the subject of this discussion and reads 'Similar to and different from'. Part of my life was in the printing trade, often as a Reader, then and since, as a writer of articles and sermons, I have continued to observe the rule and can see no reason to change.
    15th November 2021 at 10:00
    Hi, Graham. You're welcome to keep using 'different from' (as mentioned in the post and in the other comments, it is the most common formulation). And some style guides do prefer 'from'. But 'different to' (UK) and 'different than' (US) are both well-established forms with hundreds of years of usage, so the point of this post is to explain to people who may not be sure, or who may have heard people insist that 'different from' is the only correct formulation, that all three are fine as long as your meaning is clear. Hope that helps clarify the situation.
Itz Meagain
10th June 2022 at 16:21
The discussion here seems to ignore the fact that language evolves, often to our personal dislike. But that said, we are not going stop that, complain as we might. I was taught at a grammar school in the Midlands (England) that " different to" and "from" were both acceptable but "to" was preferred. Then, as the years passed, I moved around the UK and I discovered that grammar and language changed from place to place and even changed from social to informal situations. It actually wasn't until I moved to the US that I encountered "different than". I've been here over 20 years now and it still sounds like nails on the school board.
    10th June 2022 at 17:04
    Thanks for your comment, Itz! It definitely helps to be exposed to different dialects when it comes to accepting the idea that language changes with use, even if it is difficult to let go of the feeling that something sounds 'wrong' when you were raised to use one spelling, phrasing, etc., over another. But we try to make sure we reflect the diversity and variation present in the English language on this blog where we can.

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