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I have a English usage/construction question that I struggle find a reliable answer to. The question is relayed to the usage of 'very' and 'much' with the adjective "different" and is as follows:

Should it be

  1. He is much different from his father. Or
  2. He is very different from his father.

What if the sentence is in the negative form?

  1. He is not much different from his father. Or
  2. He is not very different from his father.

In the first case, I find that 'very' sounds much better than 'much'. However, in the second case I somehow feel that 'not much different' is the correct construction.

I know that, as adverbs, 'very''s usage is more extensive than that of 'much', but only 'much' can be used to modify comparatives. In that case, can 'different' function as a comparative adjective?

I also understand that 'much' usually cannot be used in a positive sentence. Does this mean 'not much different' is grammatically correct, and 'much different' should be replaced by 'a lot different'?

Many thanks.

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  • how about "very much so different"? ;P – user180089 Jul 29 '16 at 19:17
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Short version: Use very different


You want to use an adverb in front of different. While much can be an adverb, it has a very different meaning then. None of those three matches what your sentence wants to express.

to a great degree or extent

by a long time

very nearly

- Much (2) adverb

Very on the other hand is the fitting adverb you need to put the emphasis on the adjective different:

Very ADVERB Used for emphasis

- ODO

Thus in both cases very different is the way you want to go.


EDIT: As correctly pointed out the first meaning of much as an adverb does fit the sentence as well. However it still seems to be the less popular option. Probably because most dictionaries list much as an determiner first and an adverb second, while very is an adjective first - dictionary-listing-wise.

American English

enter image description here

British English enter image description here

  • As an adverb, much means to a great extent. So much different means different to a great extent. How, exactly, is this much different from very different? – deadrat Jul 29 '16 at 9:47
  • @deadrat You're quite right. Since my argumentation along the lines of grammaticality is not completely conclusive I entered popularity into evidence ;) – Helmar Jul 29 '16 at 10:02
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Juncinator, for a non-native English speaker your "feel" for the language seems pretty good to me. I believe that the first of the three meanings Helmar offers above does fit well in the negative. I would agree with Helmar on "very" for the positive and (only opinion as I don't know of any rule here) I am comfortable with "much" for the negative - i.e. he is not to any great extent different from his father.

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There are two forms of different.

  1. Different from / Common with
  2. Different than / Common than.

American usage of different tends to delude itself into believing that all cases could be lumped into the 2nd form - though fortunately, immigration of professionals from places like India and Europe have mitigated that delusion, such that it has become more common than the past to hear different from in American workplaces.

The 1st form is segregative / associative, while the 2nd form is comparative.

  • He is taller than she. He is much taller than she.
  • She is different than he. She is very different than he.
  • She is different from him. She is rather different from him.
  • Britain is exiting from the EU. Britain is different from the rest of Europe.
  • Britain is actually exiting from the EU. Britain is very different from the rest of Europe.
  • Britain is quite different from Europe in racial attitudes, but actually not that different than Europe in the desire for immigrants to assimilate.
  • Zahirah is different from Haider, because she is a girl.
  • Zahirah is more different than Haider than you would expect, because she is liberal, whilst he is conservative.
  • But, Zahirah is not too different than Haider in their disgust for Trump.
  • However, they are more common in their attitudes than their parents would like, towards pre-marital relations.
  • Zahirah is not much different from Haider, in wanting to move in together to save money to start a family.
  • They find that football is quite different in America than in Britain. Those are not even the same game.
  • Football in America is quite different than football in Britain.
  • How different could they not expect American football from football as played in Britain, when players are expected to translate the ball with their hands rather than with their feet in America!
  • How much more different would they expect American football than football in Britain, when top-ranking professional players in either countries are paid tens of millions of dollars (or sterling)!
  • Both of them are excessively different than their parents when it comes to spending money, or their slack in saving it.
  • Both of them are very different from their parents, as they tend to believe more than their parents would that money equals happiness.
  • Toilets are very different in America than in Britain, because in America they are usually called "bathrooms" even for those toilets in which one could neither have a bath nor even a shower.
  • But, toilets in America is not at all different from those in Britain - they are all for the very common purpose of relief and disposal of biological extraneous material from the human body.
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    This bit about American English using different than is complete nonsense. We usually use different from, and always have. See Ngram. And I don't see how the rest of your post answers the question "should you use very different or much different". Certainly most of it is completely irrelevant. – Peter Shor Jul 29 '16 at 13:10
  • I don't where you live or where you are from - because it would be a quirk of chance that you never used "different than" if you were American. It has been a rather annoying issue between native-born Americans and European/Asia immigrants, like football, bathrooms and toilet. Are you from America? – Blessed Geek Aug 1 '16 at 7:49
  • For your gratification - grammarist.com/usage/different – Blessed Geek Aug 1 '16 at 7:52
  • There was a time when nearly the whole of America would say "no fair". But immigrants, preferring "not fair", found "no fair" grammatically illogical - and today the result is the use of "no fair" being nearly extinct. You wouldn't know this because you were probably not born then. – Blessed Geek Aug 1 '16 at 7:58
  • I'm from American, and I usually say different from. You just think all Americans say different than because of the frequency illusion. A lot more Americans than Brits say different than, so you notice it when people say it because it sounds strange to you. But when an American says different from, you don't notice it. See my Ngram above. (Or maybe you interact only with Americans from a certain region where it's more common.) – Peter Shor Aug 1 '16 at 16:52
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I believe there is some qualitative difference. Very is an intensifier, so very different will be indicating that the difference is large in some (arguably) "measurable" terms: an intensive difference.

Adverb much means "to a great extent", so an extensive difference, which may be understood as the quantity of features or traits that differ rather than how strongly different anyone of these is.

That's probably why not much different sounds right in the negative (meaning, I'm not able to spot which are the fundamental different traits) while very different is better in the positive (I spot differences, and they are intense).

This is quantitatively supported, just look at the very different ratio of positive/negative usage:

much different vs not much different http://i.imgur.com/IwOmu7Z.png very different vs. not very different http://i.imgur.com/B2MRBTil.png

This recent evolution is to an increase of the "not much" relative preference it seems: enter image description here

(N-Grams for British English, they're not much nor very different for American, although the last one is even more spectacular as curves cross)

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