“Different from” contrasts things.
“Different than” contrasts clauses.
“Different from” contrasts two nouns or pronouns.
“Contrast” is not the same as “compare.” When we compare two things, we look for similarities. Comparative adjectives use “more … than” or “less … than” or the “-er” form of an adjective plus “than.”
When we contrast two things, we look for differences, how the two items differ. While “different” is an adjective, it is not used for comparison. “Different” is “different,” not “more different” or “less different.” Instead of “than,” use “from” to explain how one item differs from another, how the first is different from the second. “Different from” would be followed by a noun or an pronoun.
Examples of contrasting things:
- The weather today is different from yesterday. Yesterday was sunny; today a blizzard is blowing.
- A blizzard is different from a thunderstorm storm. The blizzard is worse because it’s colder.
- An oak tree is different from an elm tree. It’s stronger and lives longer.
- A semicolon is different from a colon. It’s more like a comma.
“Different than” contrasts two clauses, an independent clause and a dependent clause beginning with “than.”
“Than” combines two clauses. Sometimes in informal conversation, the dependent verb is omitted, but both speaker and listener understand it to be part of the sentence. Or the subject may be left out, making the reference more general.
Examples of contrasting clauses:
- The test was different than he expected.
- (Independent clause = “The test was different,” dependent clause = “than he expected.)
- The test was different than expected.
- (Subject left out = no reference to exactly who expected the test not to be different.)
- The conference was different than it was last year. The speakers were better.
- (Independent clause = “The conference was different,” dependent clause = “than it was last year.”)
- The conference was different than last year. The speakers were better.
- (Both the subject [“it”] and the verb [“was”] have been omitted.)
- My sister dies her hair a different color than I do.
- (Independent clause = “My sister dies her hair,” dependent clause = “than I [do.]”)
- My sister dies her hair a different color than I.
- (Verb [do] omitted.)
- (“Me” is not correct in this situation. Since the verb [do] is understood to be part of the sentence, the pronoun should be the subject.)
Because people do not always speak in a grammatically correct manner, misuse of the pronoun or using “than” or “from” incorrectly is acceptable in dialogue. The narrative or formal writing should follow the rules, so the reader knows the difference.