Somehow I got the impression that "different to" (almost entirely unknown in America) is a locution that originated in the 20th century, and that "different from" is far older. Then I found "different to" in one of the Sherlock Holmes stories by Arthur Conan Doyle. Some (most?) of those were written in the 19th century, and all were written by a native speaker of English who reached adulthood before 1880. "Different than" seems like a far more recent locution, but again I don't know its history. I dislike "different than", but I've noticed that its use makes possible some efficient expressions that might not be possible otherwise (right now I can't remember any).

  • Is "different to" in fact a far newer locution than "different from"? If so, did it originate in the 19th century?
  • Has "different from" become non-standard usage in some places where the vernacular language is English?

Per the OED1, different from is probably the earliest phrase; however, both to and than versions appear quite early.

b. With from, to, than, †with, †against, etc., in constructions specifying the two or more things which differ from each other.
Different from is the most common and most accepted construction, both in British and North American English. Different than, although often thought of as being used chiefly in North America, has a long history of use in British English.

  • The earliest attestation of this usage is different fro, ?a1425, with different from attested as early as ?a1475 (▸?a1425).
  • In 1526 the OED finds different and vnlyke to, and in 1588 different unto.2
  • Different then (sic) makes an appearance in 1644, and the correctly-spelled different than in 1728.

Google Ngram also suggests that, while different from has always been far and away more popular, the other two options have a venerable history. Interestingly, different than appears to have overtaken different to relatively recently (at least in the American corpus).

Google Ngram comparing "different from", "different to", and "different than"

A search of the British corpus suggests that while different to is still more common than different than, the use of both these locutions may also have increased in the UK in recent decades.

Google Ngram comparing "different from", "different to", and "different than" in British corpus only

So overall,

  1. There is a basis for your intuition that both different to and different than have become more common in the twentieth or twenty-first century, but both have been around for much longer than that.
  2. Different from probably remains standard for all major dialects of English, though the other two options are perhaps becoming less rare/unacceptable.

1 "different, adj., n., and adv." OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2017. Sense A.2.b.
2 The OED's first attestation for pure different to is not until 1852, but I suspect this is just a matter of choice; it can be found in Google Books at least as early as 1698 (snippet view): "his discourse to him was much different to what he writt in his letter" (Records of the Madras Government).

  • What is the reason you say "different than is probably the earliest phrase"? The OED doesn't say that, as far as I can tell; "has a long history of use" doesn't mean it has a longer history of use than the other constructions. The earliest citations in the OED don't seem to use "than": – sumelic Apr 5 '17 at 20:24
  • ?a1425 [...] Vlcerez virulent ar not different [L. non differunt] fro corrosyuez, bot after more and lese. ?a1475 (▸?a1425) [...] Þer were iij sectes of the Iewes in the Iewery, differente from the commune life of other peple. 1526 [...] His lyght is moche different and vnlyke to the lyght of the holygoost. 1588 [...] If..they could write any other language that were different vnto theirs. a1616 Shakespeare Comedy of Errors (1623) v. i. 46 This weeke he hath beene..much different from the man he was. – sumelic Apr 5 '17 at 20:25
  • @sumelic because 3:30pm...have fixed it. Do you think I should include the full text of all the attestations? It seems a bit kludgy, but I can. – 1006a Apr 5 '17 at 20:30

The correct preposition to use is from.

The word different is derived from the verb to differ - as in "be apart from something in some degree."

You can't be apart to or than something. You can only be apart from something.

The other two are colloquialisms. "To" is kind of cute. "Than" is downright disgusting.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.