In most instances, “different from” is the appropriate choice. “Different than” does, of course, show up often in informal conversation and writing, but for a strict test such as the SAT it is advisable to be familiar with the proper rule. “Than” is used with direct comparative adjectives: “A is better than B” or “A is more predictable than B.” “Different” does not follow this pattern – it is not a comparative adjective. If you could say “differenter,” then “than” would be appropriate. But “differenter” is, of course, not a word. For this reason, “different from” is the best choice.
For lunch, Alice usually brought more exotic food than her coworkers did.
For lunch, Alice usually brought different kinds of food from her coworkers.
There are occasions when “different” is, indeed, part of a comparison. These are signaled by the inclusion of “more.” See below for an example.
Tim’s haircut was slightly different from that of the other boys in school, so Evan wanted his to be even more different than that.
Evan wanted his haircut to be different from Tim’s.
While we’re on the subject… let’s briefly touch on the opposite case – similar! This adjective takes a different preposition from “different” – “to.”
Evan’s haircut was similar to Tim’s.
Evan wanted his haircut to be more similar to Tim’s than to those of the rest of the boys in school.
To recap: unless “different” is used in conjunction with “more” as a direct comparative adjective, it should be accompanied by the preposition “from” instead of “than.” Its counterpart “similar” is always accompanied by the preposition “to.”
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