How different? Stats (3/4)

Posted on Sun 29 Apr 2012 @ 7.45am UTC

← PART 2 | PART 4 →


WE’VE HAD A LOOK at what the dictionaries and the grammar gurus tell us about different from vs. than vs. to.

Let’s now look at something different.

* * *


Remember that little chart from Mark Israel (in Part 2) that I said hides a multiplicity of useful insights?

Here it is again:—

Let’s put in some ratios.

If you’re anything of a punter or even a professional gambler, it’ll be clear what you see.

For those of us lacking in Gambling DNA, let’s do it graphically.

Look at each usage as a component of the overall usage:—


All that stuff amounts to these things in normal English:—

For everybody

  • we know speech is looser or more variable than writing, so no surprises here
  • British and Americans are equal in writing and saying different from (we expect this)

For the Brits (and most semi-/pseudo-Brits)

  • first choice for speaking and writing is different from
  • second choice for speaking and writing is different to
  • Pommies are 36 times more likely to write different to than the Septics
  • Limeys have a 45 times higher chance of saying different to than the Gringos

For the Yanks

  • first choice for speaking and writing is different from
  • second choice for speaking is different than (but not much for writing)
  • Americ*nts are 5 times likelier to write different than than the Pom-poms
  • Americraps are 8 times higher in saying different than than the Britshits
  • they ain’t gonna use different to

That might account for Paul Brians’ comment in Part 2. He makes it sound as though different from is exclusively American and the Brits just don’t use it. Not true, the British use it just as much.


  • American and British second choices operate in opposite directions of one other
  • British English is slightly more diverse than American English
  • American English is slightly more of right/wrong in usage mentality

Even more ringing BSGs

All that stuff above suggests that Americans are slightly less accommodating (or more fixated) in writing this stuff than the British. Or, depending on how you look at things, the British are slightly more accommodating (or less fixated). (And that’s another sweeping generalisation.)

Mainly because the Brits use different to a quarter of the time and practically nil Americans use it, that makes Americans automatically think different to has to be incorrect. In reverse, the Brits might see different than as incorrect — but they don’t; they just don’t use it as much.

If anything, different to could be said to be an exclusive British usage when compared with American usage, and different than an American one. So we can’t make sweeping generalisations that those who don’t know any better will use different than — only that Americans who might not know any better may use different than.

Broadly speaking, Americans tend to take an either/or state of mind about the English language and practically everything else (since the mid-1970s, I noticed). Either you speak English when you’re in America — or get out. Either you’re with us on mercantilism democracy — or you’re against us, you pinko fascist liberal commie.


Any Brit, Yank/Billy Reb, Aussie, Kiwi, South African [‘suff-effriken’] or anything else in-between living or having grown up outside their (AmE his/her) ‘home’ country already knows different from/than/to can be switched around left, right and centre all the time — and makes no change to meanings.

Relax, everyone’s different to and from each other than anybody else.




© Learn English or Starve, 2012. Images: All charts by author | BSG via Being Latino.

Posted in: Colour Section