Saturday, June 13, 2009

Different to

I've noticed that the narrator of the Discovery show "Mythbusters" uses quite a few idiosyncratic phrases. By idiosyncratic I really just mean different from what I perceive as the standard and common way of saying things; I could be wrong. One of these I noticed the other day was "different to" something. I think in pretty much all cases I would say that one thing is "different from" another, though I might could use "different than" as well. Google gives the following results:

  • different from: 128M

  • different than: 47.5M

  • different to: 10.9M

So apparently I'm not crazy in my ranking of different from >> different than >> different to. From those google searches I also noticed that different to is apparently common in UK English, but rare in US English. I can't think of a good way to check frequencies within a given dialect on google, but I feel like different to may be more Southern. This fits with the Anglophilia of Southern English, as well as the fact that I think the Mythbusters narrator is Southern, based on some non-standard syntax and pronunciations he uses once in a while.


Margrete Dyvik Cardona said...

As a non-native English speaker, I have always found the use of "different than" odd (I've never actually heard "different to", I guess "mythbusters" is one of the few tv shows I don't follow :P). When we learn English, we learn that the "correct expression" is "different from", which incidentally would also be the direct translation of the equivalent expression in Norwegian ("forskjellig FRA"). I've wondered if the use of "than" with this expression isn't a kind of transferral from expressions with adjectives in the comparative, where the use of "than" is appropriate, for example: "nicer than", "bigger than" etc.

Alex Case said...

Different to is the only correct way to say it in British English. Than always seemed strange to me

Custos said...

It's from Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary:


"Different from" is the most common structure in both BrE and NAmE.

"Different to" is also used in BrE: Paul’s very different from / to his brother. This visit is very different from / to last time.

In NAmE people also say "different than": Your trains are different than ours. You look different than before.

Before a clause you can also use "different from" (and "different than" in NAmE): She looked different from what I’d expected. She looked different than (what) I’d expected.

I hope I could help. :)

parlance said...

In Australia we use "different from" mostly, but you'll also hear "different to" quite often. Not "different than" at all, unless young people influenced by the US media.

Chris said...

For dialectical differences, you should be abel to use Mark Davies' excellent BYU version of the BNC here:

inspector said...

As a native English speaker of more than six decades, I was taught that 'different to' was correct. I suspect that it may have come from a phrase such as "different, compared to....", but this was shortened to the version that I'm familiar with.

Matthias said...

If you have access to the FROWN and BROWN corpora you should check this, for this is a really good example of more subtle national varities.

Kevin Schutte said...

Here is a good piece on this issue:

Anonymous said...

"Different to" occurs all the time on the Internet. Sometimes I get the impression it's more common than what I perceive as the "correct" form. It hurts my eyes.

Also common (and annoying) on the Internet: "amount of" when "number of" should be used, eg "the amount of Web pages that incorrectly use 'amount of'".