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Spot the difference

Approx. reading time: 2 minutes

Keith is clearly a pedant. The sort of bloke whose teeth grate when he see’s a missing or misplaced apostrophe. So as a fellow traveller I was clearly disturbed to receive an email from him pointing out that on the ACM Training website I’d used different to rather than, in his view, the grammatically correct different from. Not the sort of thing, he implied, that becomes someone who leads writing for business and writing for the web workshops. And quiet write two. A bit of research was called for…

Turns out Keith that we’re both right. Different to, different from and even different than are all in common usage. Different to mainly in English English. Different than in American English. And different from in both traditions, particularly among(st?) old school grammarians. I realise, of course, that just because something is in common usage doesn’t mean it’s grammatically correct. But language, as my old English teacher loved to point out, is in a state of flux and that the rules of grammar can barely keep up. There are those in the vanguard of change who wouldn’t bat a proverbial eyelid at, what those in the rearguard would describe as, a flagrant disregard for authority. As someone who sits somewhere in the middle of this linguistic battlefield my view is that we shouldn’t get too caught up in these grammatical skirmishes. To do so risks bringing on a bad case of writer’s block as we fret over whether our use of words will offend. Too many people find writing hard work. That’s why they attend our workshops. Certainly they shouldn’t ignore the conventions of grammar. But nor should they feel weighed down by them. What’s more important, surely, is that we all learn to write clearly, concisely and that our words achieve the effect we desire?

Oh and yes there was a deliberately misplaced apostrophe in the opening sentence just to discombobulate you.