“Different to”

Listening to a report on NPR the other day by the outstanding food correspondent Allison Aubrey, I heard her utter this sentence:

“It’s a high-protein corn that’s really different to what we’re accustomed to.”

That’s right, not different from or even different than, but different to. Years back, my friend David Friedman, a massive West Ham supporter, had told me this usage was prevalent in U.K. football commentary, and I’d been looking out for U.S. users. Aubrey was the first, so I revved up the databases and hunted for more.

Not much luck. There are plenty of different to‘s in the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA), but virtually all of them were either uttered by British-born speakers or writers, or were used in expressions like “it’s different to actually go there.” Going back to 2008, the one exception was this from the Denver Post in 2011: “…the roughly $18 billion 2011-12 budget Republicans voted for is more similar than different to those that Democrat-controlled legislatures have written the past several years.” But it seems likely that the writer used to because of the need to work with the earlier word similar, which takes a to.

So I am going to categorize different to as a Doobious NOOB.

By the way, my search informed me that the British usage had been commented on by Americans for at least 140 years. One example among many was an article called “Errors in the Use of Prepositions,” in an 1873 number of American Educational Monthly. The author, identified as “S.W.W.,” wrote:

English people make a sad mistake in saying “different to” for “ different from.” Here is an example from the London Times: “During Swift’s second residence with Sir William Temple, he had become acquainted with an inmate of Moor Park very different to the accomplished man to whose intellectual pleasures he so largely ministered.”

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14 responses to ““Different to”

  1. I’ve noticed this many times and always assumed it was just another strange Britishism….

  2. I’m 59, British, and I remember my English teacher being unable to say which of ‘to’, ‘from’ or ‘than’ is best. Personally, I tend to use ‘from’, sometimes use ‘to’ and have never used ‘than’. I don’t think there is a settled usage.

  3. I’ve always thought that “different than” was a strange Americanism!” It sounds very odd to British ears.

  4. If you said something “differs” rather than “is different”, you would only say “differs from” and would not dream of saying “differs to” or “differs than”.

  5. I would say the NPR usage is another sign of the growing trend of poor prepositional usage. I hear it in work meetings, on television, and disappointingly, increasingly on NPR. While “different to” might well by an accepted British form, I’m sure this case is not intentional. Keep listening to NPR … I’m sure you’ll hear other prepositions that sound odd on/in/to/around your ear.

  6. “Different from” is correct English usage, according to my English teachers and me. However, the abomination that is “different to” is widespread in the UK. I’d consider the American usage “different than” an even worse abomination if an English person said it.

  7. Surely “to what we’re accustomed to” is the real howler here?

  8. Just now heard “dentures are different to regular teeth” in a Polident commercial. Not spoken by a Brit, but by an actor playing an African-American female dentist.

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