Sunday, September 23, 2007

24. Different FROM or Different THAN

Hey, Friends! How has your week been? Have you been trying out your grammar expertise on your friends and family? Go right ahead! Let's see if we can spread good grammar everywhere we go and make everyone as smart as a tree full of owls. :-)

Today's lesson comes as a special request--something I love to hear -- since YOU hear as many mistakes as I do and I want to give you a voice.

Now... how many of you have found yourself trying to figure out what you should say when it comes to using ...different FROM... or ...different THAN? Thank goodness, this is one of the easiest and shortest rules to know (most of the time), so if you HAVE found yourself in this dilemma, you shouldn't have any more difficulties after this lesson.

Here's all there is to it:

RULE #1:

Use ...different FROM...almost all the time. Technically, ...different FROM... simply precedes a noun or pronoun. How easy is that?

Here are a few examples:

1. Jack is so different FROM Tom, his brother -- Tom's about as bright as a burned - out light bulb! (Here, FROM precedes TOM, a noun, so, of course, FROM is correct, not THAN.)

2. These cloud formations are different FROM THOSE. (Same thing, different words. FROM precedes THOSE, although THOSE is not a noun, but a pronoun. Remember the rule? Pronouns work as well as nouns. THAN is wrong.)

3. Thad proved that ice skating is different FROM roller skating. (Once again, FROM precedes roller skating, a noun, so FROM is the only thing we can use. Again, THAN is wrong.)

Got it? I am going to assume that you're as sharp as a brier and do. Therefore, we'll move on to the other phrase, ...different THAN..., and see how to use it correctly.

Oh, yes. There IS a time when we CAN use ...different THAN... although I'll have to be honest and tell you that some grammarians would say not even to mention this part of the rule. However, because some of you scholars out there might wonder why I didn't include the next section, I figured I would at least give it a brief acknowledgment.

RULE # 2:

Use... different THAN...right in front of a clause ( a group of words with with its own subject and verb. Many times you will see several different clauses in one sentence. Nevertheless, you only want to focus on the clause that follows ...different THAN...)

Before I say more on this topic, I think it might be helpful to review CLAUSES with you.

All clauses in sentences have at least one subject and verb. Some clauses are called Subordinate (or Nonessential) Clauses, and others are called Independent (or Essential clauses.) We won't worry about this part of clauses until a little later, though. For now, let's just think about clauses being little groups of words with a subject and verb. Here are some examples:

1. The job was quite different THAN what I imagined.

In this sentence, there are two different clauses: "The job was quite different..." is one clause and the subject is JOB and the verb is WAS. However,
that's not the only clause. The second clause is "...what I imagined." Here, I is the subject and IMAGINED is the verb. Yes, this is a pretty short one,
but it's still a clause.

Now, are you putting all of this together? Do you see how THAN can be used correctly? It's correct because THAN is followed by the clause, "..what I
imagined." and NOT by a noun or pronoun which requires us to use FROM, not THAN, as seen in RULE #1.

2. Mary's performance was much different THAN she wished it had been.

Here, we have, not two, but three different clauses. "Mary's performance was much different..." is one clause. Another separate clause is "...she
wished...", and the third clause is " had been."

Don't let a number of clauses throw you. Yes, there are three clauses in this sentence, but the only one we are concerned with is the one that follows
THAN. We can prove that THAN is correct because the subject ("she") and verb ("wished") follow it.

Okay. Now I need to add a little thought that, I hope, won't confuse you. Once again, our complicated language has all kinds of exceptions and variations to major rules, and if you keep this in mind, you'll understand, I think, why it was necessary for us to take a look at ...different we just did. However...

you can actually use EITHER ONE of these phrases SOMETIMES, depending on the wording of a sentence, but ONLY if a clause follows the phrase and if the use of ...different FROM...produces awkwardness. Notice this example:

1. Music is much different today (from, than) what it was 100 years ago.

In a sentence like this, take your choice. Either FROM or THAN would be correct because a clause follows the phrase in question and we don't see any awkwardness with FROM in the sentence. a sentence like the following, we can see what happens sometimes when FROM doesn't work:

2. Neal's new home was much smaller (from, than) he wanted it to be.

Here, FROM doesn't make any sense. Surely you wouldn't say, "Neal's new home was much smaller FROM he wanted it to be." (You could, of course, add the word "what" after "smaller" and everything would change.) :-)

Okay, so this begs the question: What's the easiest way to keep all of this straight?

Answer: Just avoid using THAN. Use FROM and for all practical purposes, you'll be right nearly all the time. Anytime you have doubts, think of the suggestions offered here and use some good ole common sense when using FROM if it sounds awkward -- just use THAN if it comes before a clause (only).

Well, I hope this has been a help and, since it's about time to close up shop, let me wish y'all a wonderful week. Study your grammar rules,and keep the great ideas coming in. They will be the subjects of future lessons. Peace and Happiness, GG


Anonymous said...

Surely it should be "this thing is different TO that thing"
As you are comparing items to each other.

My sister is different from me because she is a girl, and I am a boy.

But that cow is is even more different than she is because it walks on four legs and I walk on two.

Different from is correct. Consider saying 'This marble differs FROM this marble' and apply it to different.

'Different than' is a what we in the UK call "Americanism".

Ilsa said...

In sentence 2, you have not used the word different, but smaller. Don't you always use "than" when you are talking about a difference of degrees?

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