Gwynne's Grammar: The Ultimate Introduction to Grammar and the Writing of Good English (2014)

Part III. Appendices: Some Useful Lists

Chapter 3. Special Prepositions Needed by Particular Words

There are certain verbs, nouns and adjectives which require special prepositions. Sometimes they are important simply because to use the wrong preposition is illiterate, as “different to something” is wrong, as is “different than something” (though “different than” when followed by a clause is strongly argued by many—see below), and “different from something” is correct. Sometimes use of a different preposition will change the meaning of the word that the preposition follows.

Abhorrence for

Absolve from

Accord with

Acquit of

Adapted for (by nature)

Adapted to (intentionally)

Affinity between

Agree to (a proposal)

Agree with (a person)

Bestow upon

Change for (a thing)

Change with (a person)

Comply with

Confer on (means “give to”)

Confer with (means “talk with”)

Confide in (means “trust in”)

Confide to (means “entrust to”)

Conform to

In conformity with

Convenient for (a purpose)

Convenient to (a person)

Conversant with

Correspond to (a thing)

Correspond with (a person)

Dependent on (but independent of)

Derogatory to

Differ from (a statement or opinion)

Differ with (a person)

Different from (see the discussion on what may follow “different” at the foot of this list.)

Disappointed by, in or with (someone or something)

Disappointed of (what we cannot get)

Dissent from

Exception from (a rule)

Exception to (a statement)

Glad at (a piece of news)

Glad of (a possession)

Involve in

Martyr for (a cause)

Martyr to (a disease)

Need of or for

Part from (a person)

Part with (a thing)

Profit by

Reconcile to (a person)

Reconcile with (a statement)

A taste for (art)

Taste of (food)

Thirst for or after (knowledge)

Of those listed above, “different” is a special case. Acknowledged authorities on grammar are by no means in agreement about what prepositions can and cannot follow it, rival candidates being “from,” “to” and “than.” After reviewing the evidence, this author dares to pronounce as follows.

“Different from” is always right and safe. “Different to,” much used in England but scarcely in America, is always wrong. The fact that no one would ever say that something “differs to something else” rather than “differs from something else” is useful, if not infallible, evidence against “different to.”

“Different than,” as common in America as “different to” is in England, has enjoyed a long history of occasional use even by highly regarded writers. Some American grammarians, including ones who acknowledge that it is technically unorthodox, offer a special defence for it when it is followed by clauses. Some even go so far as to say (a) use “from” after a noun or pronoun, as in “this book is different from mine”; (b) use “than” before a clause with a subject and a verb, as in “this book is different than I expected.” Those who favour “than” before a clause have, moreover, a superficially useful argument: it avoids the slight awkwardness of “different from what I expected” and the greater awkwardness of “different from that which …” In other words, before a noun or pronoun, “than” is being used as a preposition, while before a clause it is being used as a conjunction.

Readers of this book who have the commendable prescriptive instincts that I have been trying to encourage will fight it in both instances, however.

In the first place, “than” is not truly a preposition but only a conjunction. A “quasi-preposition” is the term that the traditional Concise Oxford Dictionary gives to its secondary use as preposition, reflecting the fact that the usage “She is older than him” is very much more common than the strictly correct “She is older than he (is),” with the second “is” either expressed or understood. This means that “different than mine,” with “than” playing the role of a preposition, cannot be right.

In the second place, “than” even as a conjunction is only used when introducing the second item of two things being compared; in other words, almost invariably after a comparative adjective or adverb. Logically, therefore, although you can say “This book is better than I expected,” you cannot say “This book is different than I expected.” You would need the word “more” in front of “different”—which would of course convey a different meaning—to make it grammatical.

What about the relative awkwardness of “This book is different from what I expected,” which can be even more awkward in more complicated constructions, as when the eighteenth-century author Samuel Richardson wrote “a very different Pamela than I used to leave all company and pleasure for”?

The straightforward answer is that not much rewording of the sentence will be needed to avoid the awkwardness, but even if this involves taking some trouble, so be it. Never do I suggest that hard, painstaking work is not involved in the efforts needed to practice as effectively as possible the all-important skill of communicating. Rather, the encouragement that I offer is that whatever work is involved is overwhelmingly worth it and also that this work gradually becomes progressively easier as the skills involved become more habitual and indeed as making the necessary effort becomes more habitual. “Careful polishing of what we have written,” I included as one of the elements of producing good style, in my Foreword to the section by Strunk. I repeat that here. On this specific point, you could consider, for instance, “a very different Pamela from the Pamela for whom I used to leave all company and pleasure” and, if not satisfied with that, set about improving it further.