Googlefight is just for fun, but Tomasz P. Szynalski, Polish webmaster of the English-language learning Web site Antimoon.com, uses the same principle to correct his English grammar. To decide whether to use "different than" and "different from," he tested both phrases on Google. Since both phrases turned up more than a million results, he decided that both were valid.
"Google is better than grammar books, because the results show REAL contemporary language, not the opinions of grammarians," he wrote.
The above paragraphs were then quoted in this article:
That is fine, if you are a corpus linguist.
I, however, remain largely a grammarian.
I find that corpus linguists are all too quick to adopt slang and fads over older rules, despite the comparatively short time the new variations have existed.
In many ways, it is a move _backwards_ in language. I will quite willingly admit that language is mutable and evolves, but at some point, someone wrote down and formalized most of the rules use every day. Considering that the English language tends to lose structure, rather than gain it, I think a true corpus linguist in a harbinger of entropy.
What about "different to"? Here are the results I've just got from Google.
791,000 for "different to"
2,350,000 for "different than"
7,750,000 for "different from"
There are less than a million instances of "different to" thus this doesn't satisfy your criterion for a phrase to be automatically considered correct. Perhaps, though, you'd consider 791,000 to be close enough.
I'm not saying that this is a bad way to check the validity of a phrase but I'm sure that you're aware of many of the dangers with this approach. Consider these three sentences.
1) "A monkey is different to an ape."
2) "A monkey is different than an ape."
3) "A monkey is different from an ape."
Both the first and the last sound fine to me. The sencond, on the other hand, sounds awkward. I know that the second is acceptable in American English so I wouldn't call it wrong but it still doesn't sound quite right to my ears. This is one of the things that most struck me when I went to Canada but after living there for a while I've become somewhat accustomed to it.
Now, have a look at these sentence.
4) "Compared to the genes of chimpanzees, human genes less different than gorilla genes."
5) "Turkish-Russian relations were more different than they were ten years ago."
6) "Latham and Kerry are more different than similar."
7) "We're not any more different than we were."
8) "The 'classic' features of the Neanderthals made them more different than any two modern human groups of today."
9) "Five and eight are less different than eight and twenty."
10) "I tried to appear less different than the local people, less gringo, less rich than the typical tourist."
None of these have that awkward ring to them that I was writing about. How many of the sites that Google turned up had sentences like this? (In fact they are mostly quoted directly from websites.) Also how many of the sites were ones that were saying than "different than" is incorrect?
Google helps but it can't be considered to be the final word in grammar.
I didn't know that, Jim. "A monkey is different than an ape" sounds perfectly fine to my ears. I wasn't aware that this is a characteristic of the North American dialect.
The forms you're relating to are different. "less different than" and "more different than" similar to "greater than" and "less than" where degrees of difference are being compared.
They're different to the form of 2) "A monkey is different than an ape." - where one category is being compared to another as whole to distinguish them apart.
I wouldn't use 2) very often, not as often as 1) and 3)
How many of the sites that Google turned up had sentences like this? (In fact they are mostly quoted directly from websites.) Also how many of the sites were ones that were saying than "different than" is incorrect?
Well, you have to take a look at a sample of the results in order to rule out cases like this. Or you can use the following query:
"different than" -"more different than"
Yeah, that's what I'm saying. "More different than" and "less different than" are a whole different kettle of fish. However, if you just look for "different than", these will be included and thus inflate your results. I wouldn't use 2) very often either, in fact I doubt I ever would. I'd only use 1) or 3).
Your solution is a good one ... at least for those of us who are aware of the existance of these cases and who'd be able to recognise them. This, perhaps, is more than can be said for your average ESL student. To make matters worse, "more or less" can be used as an adverb analogous to "hardly", "very", "rather", "sort of", etc. Consider these sentences.
11) "A monkey is more or less different to an ape."
12) "A monkey is more or less different than an ape."
13) "A monkey is more or less different from an ape."
We're back where we started. To make matters even worse though, "more or less" doesn't have to be like this.
14) "Compared to the genes of chimpanzees, are human genes more or less different than gorilla genes?"
15) "Were Turkish-Russian relations more or less different than they were ten years ago?"
16) "Are Latham and Kerry more or less different than similar?"
17) "Are not more or less different than we were?"
18) "Compared to modern Europeans were the Neanderthals more or less different than the natives of South America?"
19) "Are five and eight more or less different than eight and twenty?"
20) "Did he try to appear more or less different than the local people, more or less gringo, more or less rich than the typical tourist?"
However, at least in this case, these examples you'll find are less frequent ... significantly less frequent (about 1%). Here are some Google results.
17,900 for "more different than"
2,350 for "less different than"
55 for "more or less different than"
17,400 for "more different from"
1,600 for "less different from"
443 for "more or less different from"
1,820 for "more different to"
86 for "less different to"
10 for "more or less different to"
You can search for "is different than" and "is different from".
For me, it's enough to examine a couple of the sites on the first page of search results. If they're reputable (newspapers, university sites, etc.), that means I can use a given phrase.
I don't need a million native speakers to confirm the correctness of a phrase. A few is quite enough.
That's far enough I s'pose.
yup, thats a real good decision there mate, listen to the masses