That’s different!

Different from or different to?

Oxford Modern English Grammar
by Bas Aarts
I received an email this morning from a friend who has a touching faith in my ability to know the answers to such questions:

Which is correct – people having different views from you or people having different views to you?

Well, here’s a thing to provoke a domestic argument! My wife, who had just walked through the door, was emphatic it must be from. My new Oxford Modern English Grammar, acquired only yesterday, is absolutely no help – it even says ‘The account of grammar presented in this book is descriptive, not prescriptive.’ Fat lot of use that is, Professor Aarts, when people are begging to be told what to say! My fault, of course, for expecting a descriptive grammar to provide a prescriptive answer. I turned instead to Bill Bryson’s Troublesome Words:

‘Different from’ is… the usual form in most sentences… But when ‘different’ introduces a clause, there can be no valid objection to following it with a ‘to’… or ‘than’…

The Guardian Style Guide is rather more assertive:

different from is traditionally the correct form, although different to is widely accepted nowadays (but note that you would always say differs from, not differs to); different than is wrong, at least in British English.

No room for choice there – but what about that magisterial tome, the complete Oxford English Dictionary?

The usual construction is now with from; that with to (after ‘unlike’, ‘dissimilar to’) is found in writers of all ages, and is frequent colloquially, but is by many considered incorrect. The construction with than (after ‘other than’), is found in Fuller, Addison, Steele, De Foe, Richardson, Goldsmith, Miss Burney, Coleridge, Southey, De Quincey, Carlyle, Thackeray, Newman, Trench, and Dasent, among others….

I can’t help feeling that just three writers might have made the point – is the list of fifteen a sign of insecurity? Surely not, merely of comprehensive authority! After all this, what was my friend’s response to the advice I provided?

Are you trying to confuse me even more? Audio typing… is hard enough… without the grammatical complications that are hindering my progress!

Well, Hilary, sometimes the route to clarity lies through a thicket of confusion which we have to hack away to the very roots in order for clarity to prevail. Of course, sometimes we get lost, drop the scythe and can’t find it in the undergrowth. Now where was I…?