How different? Just do it! (4/4)

Posted on Mon 30 Apr 2012 @ 11.30am UTC


PREVIOUSLY in the first three parts, we’ve seen that dictionaries and usage experts support different from as standard usage. Statistics also showed that different from is used by the majority of American and British English speakers.

Today, let’s get down to brass tacks with protips.

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Things below are different from to what you are doing now.

Yup, grammarhoe, you thought from to there was a mistake. It’s a highly colloquial, highly contextualised, condensed version of the fuller sentence:—

Things [to be done] below are different from [that which] to [yourself] what you are doing now.

Where’s your god nao, furry friend? Learn your flippin’ grammar, grammarfag.

Go for gold (and make it one for the book):—

Accept that the three expressions have no practical difference in sense.

All three have been used interchangeably for several hundred years already.

But there’s bound to be that moron who challenges you that long use doesn’t necessarily make it right.

RIIIGHT.  Then ask the moron to explain how he/she uses the word gorgeous. Is it ‘full of gore’ (the defunct sense)? Or will it be ‘splendid and sumptuous’ (today’s sense)?

Don’t confuse the word ‘different’ (adjective) with ‘differ’ (verb).

These are two different words with different meanings — so don’t explode (as grammarfags are apt to do) and insist on different from. The colloquial sense of different as ‘special’ has been attested by 1912 (Online Etymology Dictionary by Douglas Harper).

Let’s keep harping about this again:—

Although it is frequently claimed that ‘different’ should be followed only by ‘from,’ not by ‘than,’ in actual usage both words occur and have for at least 300 years.

From‘ is more common today in introducing a phrase, but ‘than‘ is also used […]. ‘Than‘ is used to introduce a clause […] ‘from‘ is sometimes used instead of ‘than‘; when it is, more words are necessary […].

Regardless of the sentence construction, both ‘from‘ and ‘than‘ are standard […] in all varieties of spoken and written American English. In British English ‘to‘ frequently follows ‘different’ […].

The use of ‘different’ in the sense of “unusual” is well established in all but the most formal American English: ‘The décor in the new restaurant is really different.’

(Usage section for ‘different’ in “Random House Dictionary,” 2012)

Different is Middle English (1350–1400) and just because it comes from Latin (being the present participle of differre, from differēns) doesn’t make the word different the same in meaning or usage from to differ. You need to stay in the world of reality for your own English, boyo.

You just cannot possibly use different from indiscriminately for everything every time. There are grammar rules to follow and sometimes you need to use different than (or even different to) in order to be grammatically correct, context-wise.

Use ‘different from‘ at least 80% of the time.

You’re not going to be 80% right but at least you’ll be 80% safe from criticisers in any American- or British-speaking place.

In front of Americansdifferent than is a reasonably acceptable second choice in speech, but don’t write it.

The truth is, Americans are mostly grammarfags at heart because of some collective inferiority complex (induced by their warped education system) that they missed out on inventing the English language. So there.

In front of British or anglicised people, different to is acceptable anytime in speech, but maybe not so much in writing.

If you use different from nearly all time in writing and say it about two-thirds of the time, but say different to and different than now and again, most British people will consider you to be educationally diverse and intellectually open-minded and easygoing. I’m serious about this.

Don’t worry, most British people are rather easygoing with other people’s phraseology and language. Broadly speaking, Brits don’t much care how you say it so long as your meaning is understandable to them. This is why the Welshman’s habit of skipping verbs at random points (‘I accidentally the whole bottle’) still makes good sense to an Englishman, but will be a complete mystery to an American.

Fine-tune your meaning.

Sometimes you must use different than or different to because they help fine-tune your meaning that you can’t do with only different from.

You are different from everybody else because your background is different than others’ and this makes ‘your’ expressions different to those used by others.

(If you change everything to from in that sentence just now, the ‘flavour’ of the meaning changes — and grammarfags are mostly deaf and blind to this.)

Learn basic technique, or starve.

  • Use different from when a prepositional phrase follows
  • Use different than when a conjunction + dependent clause follow
  • Switch back to different from when a dependent clause follows + more words added
  • Use differently than as an adverb if you use it in front of a clause
  • Use differently from as an adverb if you use it in front of a clause + more words added

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To be perfectly honest, the right ‘feel’ for your writing/speaking is your own. It has to be. You know it — you must do!

If the ‘feel’ doesn’t seem like it’s coming from you, then you sound dishonestfake, maybe even criminal.

I’m not joking about this.

In this day and age of TWAT (“The War Against Terror”), if there’s any hint of dishonesty, fakeness or criminality, you’re going to get your arse hauled into the slammer.

In front of Americans, take the advice above. In front of Brits, take the advice above. In front of foreigners, take the advice above. Take the whole lot. Don’t skimp.

If your writing or speaking feels like something else, people really do get the impression you’re a potential criminal. (This is how police forensics operate.) You will find less chance of being hired. You don’t pull chicks or trawl for guys so easily. People make fun of you behind your back. They give you hard-to-do tasks just to see how you trip up.

Since most of you reading this blog are basically pretentious faggots who are not native speakers of English but dying to sound like one, I forgive you. Here are some worthless protips for you to laugh at:—

What ‘feel’ for your writing?

If you want your writing to look consistently American, you’d better write different from 92% of the time. Actually, you’re a luser, so use it 100% just to be safe. Yanks have loads of secret CIA prisons around the world, and you don’t want to end up in one of them because of using different-something.

If you want the British ‘feel’ in your writing, then you’d better lower different from to 87% and use more different to by 10%, and maybe different than once a while.

But the real headache for most people (including native American English speakers) is knowing when and how to use different to and different than. Sadly, British English is more high context than American English, so I can do nothing for you, sonny boy.

What ‘feel’ for your speaking?

Most people I have talked to about this crap estimate (conservatively) that speaking is 10 times harder than writing. (Just talking to some people is even harder than that.)

We’re talking about ‘feel’ — not just the accent.

If you want to sound like an American, it doesn’t matter. They are about the same as the Brits — just use different from about two-thirds of the time. For the remaining one-third, just stick to different than and forget different to.

To sound like a Gringo, a Brit-speaker could handle this with eyes shut. A foreign speaker will need some practice. This is why you get British actors like Hugh Laurie (House), Christian Bale (the latest Batman) and Damian Lewis (Homeland) could sound so fluently and natively homegrown American. Even the late Sir John Gielgud did a creditable Texan impersonation. (That’s for shure, that’s for dang shure.)

To sound like a Brit, the bad news is it’s harder. Mix and match is not easy to do when speaking, but mix and match is what gets results.

The easy part is using different from 68% of the time. The really hard part is to use different to 27% of the time and flavour it with different than for 4%.

And then you’ve also got to sort out which flamin’ British accent you want: south of England, ‘posh’ London vs. East End London Cockney, Estuary English, Midlands, Yorkshire, Mackie, Geordie, Merseyside, Liverpudlian, Lowland Scottish, Doric (of the Scottish Highlands), etc bloody etc. Arentcha lucky to be a Septic?

Even a native American English speaker needs concentrated practice for this British workout, so a foreigner is going to have a helluva hard time here. The only American actor who did this well (and supremely so) was Erroll Flynn (1909–59) — but then he was an Aussie by birth. So there.

And you can’t speak by the percentages — you’ve got to know when and how to use different from/than/to in order to sound right. That’s the part that can give you a killer headache.

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Broadly speaking, English speakers as a whole tend to be more anal-retentive than other European-language people about language correctness. (They are surpassed in this analness only by the Chinese and Koreans — but that’s another story for another day.)

All things being equal, though, the average British person don’t give a flying crap about native fluency whenever they hear someone talking about ‘learning to speak to a native level.’ They know in their heart of hearts that 99% of us just cannot get to speak like a native just by learning the language outside of an English-speaking country.

If you’re weak in English or speak with a heavy accent, the Brits expect you to compensate for that by being eccentric. In the British mind’s-eye, eccentricity and foreign accents go hand in hand. Plus the ability to say ‘please‘ all the time.

The Brits care a helluva lot about your point of view (“point of view is worth 80 IQ points”) than your saliva noises. Shite-talk with perfect enunciation of perfect words is still shite-talk.

The francophones and the hispanophones have it flippin’ lucky, if you ask me. Even uneducated people from any part of francophone Africa speak or write the same French with the same level of grammatical correctness as the French do (only to be surpassed by the Belgies). Spanish speakers make up nearly one-third of the world’s population and (practically speaking) it’s one Spanish language for all.

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If you can read (and possibly understand) all the crap in this and the three previous parts, you already know how to use different from/than/to.

If you can’t understand, you couldn’t and wouldn’t be reading this stuff up to this point anyway, would you now?

Which leaves one possible reason for your contestations: you’re just out to pick a fight.




© Learn English or Starve, 2012.

Images: Go for Gold via scrabblicious | No Difference by Steffan Macmillan | Is this different or what? via c4c | Know Your Place via c4c | Confused Directions via Free Stock Photography Australia | Different UK Accents via UIC London | Bollocks, Innit? by the author.