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THIS IS NOT A DUPLICATE QUESTION. This question does not duplicate that question that is cited that this question is a duplicate of, as was already fully explored and explained in the body of this question when it was originally posted (see below). That question neither asks this question as it is asked herein nor provides the answer to this question.

In a recent letter to Miss Manners, a self-alleged editor of a publication suggests that "different than" isn't "correct" or "appropriate" grammar, a suggestion I question here with you all.

RESEARCH:

In my research, I found a few questions on this cite that touch on this subject, but one is merely about the history of usage and not grammaticality, another from three years ago asks this question but has no answers posted, and another with eight answers posted asks the question but then negates it by stating in the question's details that it is proper grammar without providing any foundation for saying so, whereas the eight posted answers to that question, possibly because of the question being negated by the asker, only: offer opinion; offer statistics of usage, like from Google Ngram, without offering any actual answer to the question itself; or offer an answer as fact but without substantiating it with any grammatical reference source, save for one that cites Fowler's Modern English Usage, but that citation never addresses "different than" at all but instead is entirely a case against the usage of "different to" in British English, which if this question requires such specificity, then the specificity would be American English, what with Miss Manners, the letter writer, and I all being American. So, since there is no substantive answer on this site to this particular question that I'm asking, which would otherwise make it a duplicate, I'm asking it here, now.

Also, for research purposes, here is the unabridged letter to Miss Manners with the relevant section in bold:

DEAR MISS MANNERS:

I am the editor of a publication that comprises submissions from a variety of people. Some of them want me to correct their grammar, but others do not.

I asked one writer whether to do so on his work, and he said he wasn't sure. But then, an hour later, he came back and said he was offended that I'd even asked. Was I wrong to ask?

In your column, since you don't print people's names with their submissions, it seems that it would be OK to correct their grammar. A recent question read: "It seems rude to seat guests (especially those who traveled from out of town) in a different room THAN the guest of honor." The person who wrote that question might have wanted to show off the article after it was published, so wouldn't it have been appropriate for you to use FROM rather than THAN?

Miss Manners' reply only answers the letter writer's question, "Was I wrong to ask?" and not the letter writer's later question, "Wouldn't it have been appropriate for you to use FROM rather than THAN?" As such, Miss Manners' reply is irrelevant to the question I've posted here, but for the sake of transparency and reference, you can find her reply by clicking the hotlink above that sources the letter and then scrolling down the page to just after the letter.

QUESTION:

Is "different than" ungrammatical? Please explain why with grammar reference source material as foundation. I'll be putting this up for bounty as soon as it is eligible.

Thank you for taking the time to read this and consider my question.

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    What do you mean by “ungrammatical “? Isn’t it a question of usage? merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/… - Not everyone agrees that different is not a comparative adjective, but even if it isn’t we can make it function as one by adding the words more or less before it. In such cases it sounds normal to use different than.
    – user 66974
    Sep 30, 2022 at 18:03
  • It seems to be a matter of opinion. See e.g. dictionary.cambridge.org/grammar/british-grammar/…
    – Stuart F
    Sep 30, 2022 at 18:04
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    All questions of grammatical correctness are matters of opinion. You either have your own opinion or you follow someone else's. In matters dealing with comparatives, the syntax is so complex that just about any usage can be found examples of, somewhere. Which is to say, no it's not ungrammatical. It's normal and understandable; it's just that it's not archaic, and there are those who find anything outside their opinion to be Wrong. Use it if you want. Sep 30, 2022 at 18:25
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    Saying it's not a duplicate doesn't make it not a duplicate.
    – shoover
    Sep 30, 2022 at 23:00
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    This question is predicated upon multiple errors of thinking, not the least of which is the unproven assertion that it is not a duplicate of this or that other question; it certainly is so. In particular, the history of usage is the history of grammaticality, nothing more and nothing less.
    – tchrist
    Oct 1, 2022 at 14:39

1 Answer 1

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Different than is grammatical

No, different than is ɴᴏᴛ ungrammatical, and the Oxford English Dictionary says as much in a special note about this usage. The (paywalled) OED specifically notes in their differ entry sense 2b that:

  1. 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.

By way of documentation in support of different than, they first provide an older UK citation from three centuries ago, and then a more recent citation from twenty-first century America. That entire entry was last updated September 2022, and retrieved October 2022. Why they decided they needed to add that special note to remind speakers of British English of their own history is something you would have to ask them about.

So it’s obviously grammatical. Ignore peevers who claim otherwise.


Comparisons via than

Using than with comparatives is normally unremarkable:

  1. Getting to school was harder than I thought it would be.
    (than followed by an independent clause)
  2. Granite is harder than sandstone.
    (than followed by a noun phrase)

Nobody ever complains about either of those two kinds of than-comparisons. Yet when a than-comparison is one where one thing is different from something else, using than can trigger complaints of putative “incorrectness” by people whose own dialect has lost these constructions.

The questions referenced elsewhere show that these usages have always been part of English for the past 400 years up through and including today’s English. There’s no justification for scolding people. As John Lawler wrote in comment:

All questions of grammatical correctness are matters of opinion. You either have your own opinion or you follow someone else's. In matters dealing with comparatives, the syntax is so complex that just about any usage can be found examples of, somewhere. Which is to say, no it's not ungrammatical. It's normal and understandable; it's just that it's not archaic, and there are those who find anything outside their opinion to be Wrong. Use it if you want.


A Critical Clarification: a different room than

The originally cited sentence that was being complained about by whoever had written Miss Manners ᴅɪᴅ ɴᴏᴛ use different than! Instead it used “a different room than”:

It seems rude to seat guests..in a different room than the guest of honor.

The last part of the sentence has had various syntactic elements predictably elided per the custom. This isn’t wrong in any way, but with those deleted bits restored, the resulting sentence seems unlikely to have attracted notice, let alone complaint:

It seems rude to seat guests in a different room than the one that the guest of honor had been seated in.

Everyone knows that the second one is grammatical; it happens all the time. And that’s all the first one means. So it’s not special, and it’s not ungrammatical to make those predictable elisions. Deletions like these are perfectly commonplace everywhere in the language. However, the more you delete the more risk of possible misreadings you run.

So the complaint was never about using the literal pair of words, different than, only about using a different room than.

This distinction is important because these two forms:

  1. a NOUN PHRASE identical/similar/different to/from/than ...
  2. an identical/similar/different NOUN PHRASE to/from/than ...

are not used identically, and differences in their respective usage can bring out peevers who just cannot abide some variations employed by native speakers elsewhere. I’ve talked about all this before.


Themes and Variations

In the rest of this post, I provide several sets of related constructions, with each one showing various common deletions and reorderings you’re apt to see with each.

The greatest peeving probably to be had about the last of these sets, the one with different than. But it comes out for in the other sets, depending on how much gets chopped out and what order things are done in.

I’ve used ❓ sigils to signal versions that not all speakers might find 100.0000% acceptable, or which some would question or dispute.

That does not mean they don’t get used; they do get used, albeit not equally in all speech communities. Those versions so marked are more likely to be targeted by scolds unwilling or unable to stop themselves from peeving about idiolects that somehow differ from their own.

A box the same as, the same box as

Comparisons with same don’t usually trigger complaints, except sometimes for those at the very end of this list.

  • My prize came in a box that was the same as the box that her prize came in.
  • My prize came in a box that was the same as the one hers came in.
  • My prize came in a box that was the same as hers came in.
  • My prize came in a box the same as hers came in.
  • My prize came in a box the same as hers.
  • My prize came in the same box (that/as) her prize came in.
  • My prize came in the same box (that/as) hers came in.
  • My prize came in the same box as hers did.
  • My prize came in the same box as hers.
  • My prize came in the same box as she got.
  • ❓ My prize came in the same box as she.
  • ❓ My prize came in the same box as her.
  • ❓ My prize came in her same box.

A box identical to, an identical box to

As with same, comparisons with identical don’t usually trigger complaints, except sometimes for those at the very end of this list where the noun phrase at the end gets moved up and stuck right after similar. These are louder if the noun phrase is no longer in the same case on the second part of the comparison as the one on the first part used. Thus may well be because the extra deletions involved require more substitution in the mind of the listener.

  • My prize came in a box that was identical to the box that her prize came in.
  • My prize came in a box identical to the one that her prize came in.
  • My prize came in a box identical to what her prize came in.
  • My prize came in a box identical to what hers came in.
  • My prize came in a box identical to hers.
  • My prize came in a box identical to what she got hers in.
  • My prize came in a box identical to what she got.
  • ❓ My prize came in a box identical to her.
  • ❓ My prize came in an identical box to the one her prize came in.
  • ❓ My prize came in an identical box to what her prize came in.
  • ❓ My prize came in an identical box to what her prize did.
  • My prize came in an identical box to the one hers came in.
  • My prize came in an identical box to what hers came in.
  • My prize came in an identical box to hers.
  • ❓ My prize came in an identical box to her.

A box similar to, a similar box to

These similar to cases are pretty much like the previous identical to cases. Then tend to provoke complaint only when they reärrange and delete so much that they break parallelism, like the last one.

  • My prize came in a box that was similar to the box that her prize came in.
  • My prize came in a box similar to the box that hers came in.
  • My prize came in a box similar to the one her prize came in.
  • My prize came in a box similar to the one hers came in.
  • My prize came in a box similar to what her prize came in.
  • My prize came in a box similar to what hers came in.
  • My prize came in a box similar to what hers did.
  • My prize came in a box similar to hers.
  • My prize came in a similar box to hers.
  • ❓ My prize came in a similar box to her.

A box different to, a different box to

Parallel to these uses just now shown above with similar to, one also encounters the same forms being used with different to.

However, when you do that, you tend to draw more complaints from people who either have never heard different to used instead of different from (such as many Americans), or else who were quite explicitly told that they were not to so (such as some UK speakers with particular educational backgrounds, prestigious or otherwise).

You’ll draw even louder complaints if you delete and reärrange these too much, just as with similar. They do happen, though, at least in some speech communities if not in all.

  • ❓ My prize came in a box that was different to the box that her prize came in.
  • ❓ My prize came in a box different to the box that hers came in.
  • ❓ My prize came in a box different to the one her prize came in.
  • ❓ My prize came in a box different to the one hers came in.
  • ❓ My prize came in a box different to what her prize came in.
  • ❓ My prize came in a box different to what hers came in.
  • ❓ My prize came in a box different to what hers did.
  • ❓ My prize came in a box different to hers.
  • ❓ My prize came in a different box to hers.
  • ❓❓ My prize came in a different box to her.

A box different from, a different box from

These aren’t normally going to trigger complaints, except perhaps in the last ones with more reärrangements and deletions, especially when these go so far as to break parallelism between the two halves of the comparison the way the very last one with the double-question-mark sigil does.

  • My prize came in a box that was different from the box that her prize came in.
  • My prize came in a box different from the box hers came in.
  • My prize came in a box different from the one that her prize came in.
  • My prize came in a box different from the one hers came in.
  • My prize came in a box different from the one she got.
  • My prize came in a box different from what her prize came in.
  • My prize came in a box different from what hers came in.
  • My prize came in a box different from what hers did.
  • My prize came in a box different from her prize's box.
  • My prize came in a box different from hers.
  • ❓ My prize came in a different box from hers.
  • ❓❓ My prize came in a different box from her.

A box different than, a different box than

This is the construction scorned by the unmannered peever who wrote Miss Manners.

It uses than as a conjunction, by which I mean that it takes clauses for a complement. However, the entire verb can be and often is elided, leaving only the new subject. When read as a clause elision, this is unremarkable, but taken as something other than that can raise the hackles of speakers who do not use this construction.

In particular, when that happens to a pronoun, people sometimes switch that subject pronoun to an object form. Switching the pronoun case means now they are using than as a preposition taking a noun phrase complement, which is something that can attract peevery from those prone to that particular antisocial behavioral pattern.

  • My prize came in a box that was different than the box that her prize came in.
  • My prize came in a box that was different than the box hers came in.
  • My prize came in a box that was different than hers came in.
  • My prize came in a box that was different than the one that her prize came in.
  • My prize came in a box different than the one hers came in.
  • My prize came in a box different than what her prize came in.
  • My prize came in a box different than what hers came in.
  • My prize came in a box different than her prize's box.
  • My prize came in a box different than hers did.
  • My prize came in a box different than she got.
  • ❓ My prize came in a box different than hers.
  • ❓❓ My prize came in a box different than she.
  • My prize came in a different box than the one that her prize came in.
  • My prize came in a different box than the one hers came in.
  • My prize came in a different box than what hers came in.
  • My prize came in a different box than the one she got.
  • My prize came in a different box than hers came in.
  • My prize came in a different box than hers did.
  • My prize came in a different box than hers.
  • ❓❓ My prize came in a different box than her.
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    Linguists have methods to establish grammatical correctness, or else the study of syntax would not be an academic discipline (although they do not always agree - the same applies to all subjects in the humanities and to many sciences). The main methods are examining usage and asking native speakers if they consider something to be grammatical. Neither of these produces a clear consensus on this topic.
    – Stuart F
    Oct 1, 2022 at 14:50
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    @StuartF If Jack resents the way Jill says shibboleth and Jill resents Jack’s resentment, then how many of Jack and Jill’s social problems can ELU solve for them?
    – tchrist
    Oct 1, 2022 at 15:41
  • @tchrist, if it's just Jack and Jill, the problem is 'too localised' and there is nothing for ELU to do about it, but if quite a few people in Jack's part of the world cringe at the way Jill has learnt to pronounce it in her part of the world, that is a fact that is worth noting, and it is well within the scope of ELU.
    – jsw29
    Oct 2, 2022 at 16:37
  • @jsw29 The fundamental problem here is the complaints about the complaints, where the mislearnts getting reburnt hurts. That’s what the question is really about. It just isn't right to gripe about people who don't talk the way the griper does, but this is not a problem that ELU can ever solve. Idiolects are no less different than snowflakes are in their mutual lack of perfect identicality, for each one in the whole wide world is absolutely unique unto itself.
    – tchrist
    Oct 2, 2022 at 16:53

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