It’s important to celebrate difference. But, being proofreaders, we want to be grammatical while we do so. Which leads us to a problem: should we say ‘different from’, ‘different to’ or ‘different than’?
The answer? It all depends on where you’re from.
‘From’, ‘than’ and ‘to’ are all used the same way when they follow ‘different’. For example, we could say any of the following:
Australian English is different from American English.
Australian English is different to American English.
American English is different than Australian English.
In all of these cases, the sentence expresses the idea that Australian and American English are different. But why does it matter which term we use with ‘different’? It all depends on where you are from (if you noticed that one of the sentences above stands out as different, that might be a clue).
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‘From’, ‘to’ and ‘than’ are all prepositions when they come after ‘different’, so there is no functional difference. It’s more a matter of regional habit.
The good news is that ‘different from’ is common in all major English dialects. So, whether you’re from Australia, the US, Canada, the UK or beyond, you can use this phrase with confidence.
‘Different to’ is a bit more local. This term is quite British, but you’ll also find it in dialects that draw heavily on British English (including Australian English, although less commonly than ‘different from’).
The phrase ‘different than’, on the other hand, is largely American. This may change eventually, as American English tends to creep into other dialects. But for now, ‘different than’ is often considered incorrect in British or Australian English (and in other non-American dialects).
Which Term Should I Use?
Ultimately, ‘different from’ is more widespread than the other options. And since it is used in both Australia and America (as well as in other English-speaking countries), it’s a safe choice.
However, you should be more careful when using ‘to’ or ‘than’. ‘Different to’ is accepted in Australian English, even if it isn’t common. But ‘different than’ stands out as an Americanism, so some people will consider it incorrect if you use it in an Australian English document.