Words Even A Ruthless Editor Has To Look Up: Different From vs. Than, Compared To vs. With

Man in suit looking confused - Words are confusing - even a ruthless editor has to look things upNo one — not even The Ruthless Editor — can master every word in the English language and what often are evolving usage and meanings.

Every week, I either hop online or reach for one of my favorite grammar books for help. Last week had its share of searches. Here are the results of two of them. Both relate to everyday words.

different from vs. different than

Different usually should be followed by from, not thanDifferent from means to be unalike.

Josh’s sports preferences are different from Jessica’s.
His core values are different from mine.
Arizona’s weather isn’t much different from New Mexico’s.

There are times, as shown below, when you can use either different from or different than. But notice that the words following from or than include a phrase with a subject and a verb. The examples above do not.

The price of a gallon of milk is different from what it was 10 years ago.
The price of a gallon of milk is different than it was 10 years ago.

Her agility today is different from what it was before she started exercising.
Her agility today is different than it was before she started exercising.

To make it easy, simply remember this: You’ll almost always be right if you use different from rather than different than.


compared to vs. compared with

There is not a significant difference in compared to vs. compared with, but in general, compared to more often implies that two things are similar or belong to the same category.

She compared her own soufflé to one she had tasted while touring France.
He compared the slowly recovering economy to a wobbly newborn calf struggling to stand.

When you want to emphasize differences, compared with is preferred:

Our business plan, when compared with theirs, includes much more detail.
Compared with my MacBook Air, my first computer was a dinosaur.

The nuances of meaning of even the most commonly used words are part of what can make English challenging and difficult to master. Yet those shades of meaning are what I find fascinating.

If you’re puzzled about differences between similar words or how to use them, leave a comment or send me an email: Kathy@RuthlessEditor.com  I might respond directly, or I might use your query for a future blog.

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Kathy Watson

Kathy Watson has a love/hate relationship with grammar; she loves words and the punctuation that helps them make sense, yet she hates those pesky rules. A self-proclaimed ruthless editor, she prefers standard usage guidelines of The Associated Press Stylebook. Her easy-to-use Grammar for People Who Hate Rules helps people write and speak with authority and confidence. She encourages and welcomes questions and comments. (Email)