My grammar pet peeve


I’ve been reading a few blogs about writing and words to avoid.  My husband sent me a blog about the overuse of adverbs in science fiction.  Science fiction does not fit into my personal taste, but I read the blog anyway just to get some insight into adverbs.  The first thing that struck me (the wrong way, no less) was that the blogger used the word “different” in a sentence followed by the word “than.”  Talk about dragging your fingernails across a blackboard.

The word “than” is intended to be used to compare a word to another word.  When you say something is “different,” you are not comparing it.  Rather, you are distinguishing it from something else.  Let’s look at an example.  “Shaquille O’Neal is taller than Kobe Bryant.”  “Meryl Streep is older than Amy Adams.”  Those are sentences of comparison, so the preposition “than” is appropriate.  By comparison, let’s look at some sentences using the word different.  “The weather in New Jersey is different from the weather in Hawaii.”  In that sentence, we are comparing the weather in the two states, true.  But we’re are using New Jersey as a baseline to distinguish it from Hawaii.  Alternatively, to use the word “than” we might say “the weather in New Jersey is cooler than the weather in Hawaii.”

I’m not sure I’m being clear here, because there comes a time when grammar just makes sense, and you’re not sure why you say things a certain way.

I’m taking German classes right now, and I’m struggling to figure out what conjunction goes with what verb.  In German, you don’t hide from something, you hide for it.  You don’t take medication for a cold, you take medication against a cold.  I’m in the process of memorizing those combinations, and it’s made me think about my English.  In English, my mother tongue, those word combinations come without thought.  Somewhere along the way, some English speaker got a little lazy and said “different than” and it just caught on like wildfire I suppose.  Because it is rare when I hear the word “different” used with it’s proper partner, “from.”

I did a quick Internet search to make sure I was correct about all this before I started writing.  I found a blogger who says that this “different than” thing is an American modification to English and, even so, is only acceptable in American English when comparing a noun to a clause.  (Am I getting too technical here?)  As an example, she offers, “Sara’s appearance is very different than I expected.”  “Appearance” is the noun and “I expected” is the clause.  I’m still not clear on this, and I would probably avoid using “different than” in any case.  Bottom line, she says, if the choice between “different from” and different than” comes up on a standardized test like the GMAT, be sure to use “different from,” which is the standard proper English, not the Americanized version.  Here is another grammar blog that is a little less uptight than I am.  (I’ll save my opinions about the word “less” for another day.)

Admittedly, I’m a stickler.  I had a very traditional high school English teacher, and I held on for dear life to every word she said. Then I studied journalism in college, where these rules were further ingrained.  It’s difficult for me to relax my language standards.

So that’s all I have to say on the point.  I hope my use of quotation marks and italics have not driven you crazy.  I have a feeling that quotation marks live in my personal sea of cluelessness.


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