Since You Asked: Correct or wrong, it's all the same

Please settle an argument. I'm trying to convince my husband that it's not OK to say "different than." I say it's "different from." He begs to differ. Who's right?

— Betty M., Medford

There's an easy key to avoiding confusion on this, Betty. It's to remember what part of speech you're dealing with.

"From" is a preposition. "Than" is a conjunction. So when we say that this question is different from the last one, the preposition indicates a relationship between the word "one" and the word "different."

If we used the conjunction, the full sense would be, "This question is different than that question is different," which makes no sense. So the first sentence is correct.

If that's too tricky, try to remember by using "differ" as a verb, as in, "June differs from December." You wouldn't say, "June differs than December" or "June differs with December."

Or you could just let it go in the interest of world peace. If you understand what your husband is saying, then the language he used or misused has served its purpose. Of course, now we've riled all the grammar Nazis and English purists within several hundred miles, but we're accustomed to their abuse — we have to be, we're journalists!

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by e-mail to

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