This post continues my series, “Grammar Questions You’ve Been Too Embarrassed to Ask.” You can read the first one here and the third one here. Today we’re going to talk about two commonly misused sets of words (and a bonus set at the end).
Different from vs. different than
I once saw a book for sale by an indie publisher called No Different than Johnny (I have changed the name of the guy in the title to protect the guilty publishing house). I was pretty shocked that this embarrassing mistake got by the editors, but experience in the field has taught me that sometimes it’s not the editor’s fault; the publisher herself might have wanted it that way – goodness knows why.
In any case, the different from/than conundrum is a common mistake, and I thought we could explore it together.
Since two entities differ from each other and don’t differ than each other, you almost always use from in this case. For instance:
- The color of my eyes is different from the color of your eyes.
- The children in the park were different from those in the swimming pool.
- My dog differs from Sally’s cat.
- English differs from French in that English doesn’t have feminine and masculine nouns.
When a verb follows the from/than (some experts call it a preposition; some call it a conjunction), you can use “than,” i.e.:
The boots sent by L.L. Bean are different than I thought.
Try the sentence with from instead:
“The boots sent by L.L. Bean are different from I thought.”
Totally wrong, right? So in this case you can use “than” with impunity.
Hate the word than? You can rework the sentence to accommodate from:
“The boots sent by L.L. Bean are different from the ones I thought I’d be getting.”
Here I have stuck in a noun (“the ones”) after the preposition/conjunction.
Comparative adjectives need than. But what’s a comparative adjective?
Think of it as second in the series: smart, smarter, smartest; frustrated, more frustrated, most frustrated.
She’s heavier than I was at her age.
He’s fatter than a barrel of coconut oil.
What I want is bigger and more important than the fear that prevents me from achieving it.
Hanged vs. hung
In past tense, you can use “hanged” only when referring to a person in a noose. It’s really as simple as that.
- He hanged himself in his cell.
- The previous government hanged a lot of so-called dissidents.
- The inquisitors hung him by his toes.
- The little rascal hung on to the branch and scared the living daylights out of his mother.
- I hung out my wash right before it rained.
- She hung her Picasso in the hallway.
- His girlfriend hung up on him and immediately became his ex-girlfriend.
- I’m really hung up on that song I keep hearing on the radio.
I hung up on my crazy neighbor last week because she is hung up on getting us into trouble with the authorities. Today she hung around her balcony while she hung up her wash, in order to eavesdrop on us as our workers hung new roofing. I am working on ridding myself of fantasies in which she has hanged herself in remorse for ruining our lives. Yet I feel compassion for her because she grew up in a country where they hanged a lot of people for disagreeing with the gangsters in charge.
For you poor people who missed my email…
I sent an email last month that included a nice grammar hack, but which didn’t make it onto this site. Therefore, I am repeating it here for everyone’s benefit:
Connote vs. denote
Connote is Conditional or Consequential; it gives a general idea or a hint. For example, “Laughter often connotes happiness.”
Denote is Definite; it tells it exactly like it is. For example, “Her smiling face denoted the pride she had in her doberman’s winning the dog show.”
Nowadays, the rules are blurred, and even the most experienced and careful writers sometimes mix up connote and denote, and vice versa – both unwittingly and intentionally. But it’s important to know what’s what, and then decide whether you are going to pay attention to the rules or not.
Here are some examples of connote and denote:
- The six-hundred-page textbook my tutor left on the doorstep with the note, “See you tomorrow,” connotes that I’m in for a long night.
- Saying “I’m different than most editors” connotes a possible lack of professionalism and experience.
- When I was a little girl, tattoos connoted that you were a sailor and having two earrings in the same ear lobe connoted that you were from the wrong side of the tracks.
- Receiving an A generally denotes that you know the material well.
- A stuffed bank account doesn’t always denote happiness.
- Giraffes’ long necks denote their ability to eat from the tops of trees.
In another few weeks, I’ll submit the last in my series on Grammar Questions You’ve Been Too Embarrassed to Ask. Let me know in the Comments which issues you’d like me to cover.