What’s the difference between different from vs. different than and disinterested vs. uninterested

The Writingessentialsbyellen.com blog has a new “look”: posts will be shorter so that readers can get the essential questions answered quickly, but links will be provided to previous and new essays that go deeper into the language usage and controversy points. Reply to the post to let me know how you like the new format. Ellen ~~

This post discusses pairs of words that have caused quite a bit of debate among linguists and language mavens. As you can see from these brief excerpts from longer, earlier posts (linked here), the usage of these words show that not only can words be used interchangeably over time, but often, the meaning of the writer is clear – despite what the “experts” believe.

different from vs. different than

Prescriptivist hold that different from is the (only) correct form, while different than (or in British English different to) is at best colloquial, but should never be used in formal writing. FYI: most British prefer different to, and Americans use different than.

Whatever your personal or professional preference for any of the constructions – different from or different than or different to – the grammarist.com asserts that “no English speaker has trouble understanding them.”

disinterested vs. uninterested

The two words have a controversial usage history, sometimes used interchangeably and at times one edging out the other one. Some language critics view mixing up this pair as a sign of ignorance and others would correct those who “misused” them (American Heritage Guide 145). Purist would say that disinterested in standard usage is the only word to use for “impartial” and “without bias” and uninterested means “indifferent” or “unconcerned.”

However, not only have the words been used interchangeably, but linguists have noted that by the 21st century, disinterested has largely replaced uninterested to mean indifferent, losing its exclusive meaning of impartial.

(Resources: New Fowler’s Modern English Usage; grammarist.com; American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style)

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *