What preposition should we use in English after the adjective “different”, e.g. in the sentence “My car is different from/than/to your car?” Fortunately, there is no difference in meaning – “different from”, “different than” and “different to” mean the same thing. The difference, however, is in what parts of the world and how often each preposition is used.
By far the most common (and universally used) preposition is “from”. This preposition is found to some extent in American English, but the British do not use it much. “Different to”, on the other hand, occurs in British English but does not sound natural in American English.
There is, however, one major difference in how the prepositions in question are used. “Different than” can be used in combination with another preposition, while “different from” and “different to” cannot. For example, we could say:
- The situation is different than in the past. (admissible)
- The situation is different from in the past. (incorrect)
- The situation is different to in the past. (incorrect)
Expressions such as “than in the past” are actually a shortened form of the subordinate clauses. “Than” can be used to introduce a subordinate clause, “from” and “to” cannot:
- The situation is different than it was in the past. (correct)
- The situation is different from it was in the past. (incorrect)
- The situation is different to it was in the past. (incorrect)
Variants with “from” and “to” require a subject, not just a subordinate clause. So we could say instead of the sentences above:
- The situation is different from what it was in the past.
- The situation is different to what it was in the past.
The variant “different from what …” is still the most commonly used form, but we also see “than” used in this way very often.