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At one time, all these expressions were common. In the 18th century, many grammarians began objecting to different than. The 1913 edition of the Webster Dictionary calls different than "unacceptable." Many other grammarians (including the authors of The Heath Handbook of Composition (1981) and The Elements of Style (1979)) have argued against ever using different than. Strunk and White (The Elements of Style) explain it this way--
Here logic supports established usage: one thing differs from another, hence different from.
For most sentences, the American Heritage Dictionary's usage panel (copyright 1992) also recommends different from over different than, especially for simple comparisons.
Macs are still different from PC's.
However, the panel considers different than to be acceptable if (and only if) the words following it make up a clause (especially an elliptical adverbial clause--one that refers to a previously mentioned context without actual stating it):
The polls seem to be not much different than before (in other words, "than they were before the report was made public").
When using different from, remember to use the same structure before and after these words. For example, the following two sentences have parallel construction:
The degree of accuracy for length measurements should not be
different from the degree of accuracy for width measurements.
The degree of accuracy for length measurements should not be different from that for width measurements.
The next sentence does not have parallel construction.
The degree of accuracy for length measurements should not be different from width measurements.
Note that the construction can greatly affect the meaning.
The test facility for aeronautics is very different from that for space.
The test facility for aeronautics is very different from space.
Responsible NASA Official: Natalie L. Henrich,
Glenn Technical Publications Manager
Web Curator: Caroline A. Rist (Wyle)
Last updated: 4/22/2011