WOW 2

different from and different to

Hmmm

Which one should I choose?

Look at the sentences below and see if you can decide whether different from or different to is more appropriate.

  1. “I might choose the pink toaster because it’s different to what I’d usually buy,” Jacqui said unexpectedly.
  2. Mark Robyns’ decisions at his new company are very different from those he made in the last financial year.
  3. It’s important to make the right language choices because public speaking is very different to informal conversation.
  4. The Labour Party has very different ideas from the Conservative Party about managing the economy.
  5. Hey! U up for going out? Wear something different to last night’s get-up. TB x

The answers are at the bottom of the page – if you identified the appropriate usage correctly, you probably don’t need to read the rest of the page!

If you’re not so sure … read on …

banana skin1b   How can I avoid slipping up?

The key lies in deciding whether you are in a formal or an informal situation. Remember these three rules:

  1. in formal writing or speaking, you must use different from
  2. in an informal situation, you could use different to
  3. if you are not sure, always choose different from

Many people dislike the use of different to, but if you are speaking or writing informally, or texting to a friend, then it is acceptable to use the adjective different with the preposition to. However, always avoid it in formal writing and in formal speech.

In American English (AmE), different than is used instead of different from – particularly where a clause rather than a noun follows the preposition.

I’m going to bring a different curry than I did for your last party.  (AmE)

It is better to avoid this form in British English (BE).

I’m going to bring a different curry from the one I did for your last party.  (BE)

In your own writing or speech, you need to ask yourself the following questions:

  • is the context formal? → if the answer is YES, choose different from
  • is the context informal?  if the answer is YES,  you could choose different to
  • what should I do if I’m not sure? → choose different from 
ANSWERS

Appropriate usage is in blue. Non-standard usage is crossed through with the appropriate version in red.

  1. “I might choose the pink toaster because it’s different to what I’d usually buy,” Jacqui said unexpectedly. [informal conversation → different to is acceptable; different from would be the safe choice if you were not sure]
  2. Mark Robyns’ decisions at his new company are very different from those he made in the last financial year. [formal writing → different from is the appropriate choice] 
  3. It is important to make the right language choices because public speaking is very different to informal conversation. [formal context → different from would be the appropriate form]
  4. The Labour Party has very different ideas to the Conservative Party about managing the economy. [formal context → different from would be the appropriate form]
  5. Hey! U up for going out? Wear something different to last night’s get-up. TB x  [informal text → different to is acceptable; different from would be the safe choice if you were not sure]

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