As the sun sets on summer, here’s our monthly look at words:
-‘Different from’ vs. ‘different than’
-Expressing job titles
-Top misspelled words
Different From vs. Different Than
A friend told me she can’t bear it when TV news anchors say “different than” instead of “different from” when making a distinction. This is one of those ‘common language’ differences. While it may be generally accepted to say “different than” in everyday speech, it is grammatically incorrect.
The word ‘than’ is used to follow a comparative adjective, like ‘wider’ or ‘closer’ or ‘more,’ as in “His handlebar moustache is more extravagant than Pete’s.” Since ‘different’ is not a comparative adjective, it should virtually always be followed by ‘from’ instead of ‘than.’ I say virtually always because, yes, there is an exception.
In sentences where ‘different from’ appears, a noun or pronoun always follows. For example:
“These prices are different from the ones posted last year.”
“Your salad is different from mine.”
In those examples, “different from” is followed by a noun (ones) or a pronoun (mine). But, in cases where the expression is followed by a clause, “different than” is correct. For example:
“My experience at the spa was different than I thought it would be.”
“The obstacle course was different than it was last year.”
The last sentence could be rewritten using “different from” if we said, “The obstacle course was different from the one we had last year.”
Expressing Job Titles
Generally, job titles should not be capitalized unless they appear directly before a name. Job titles appearing after a name as well as any job descriptions should be lower case. Also, titles should be capitalized only when the proper title is used, as in Marketing Director Ray Graham, but not if a name like ‘marketing guru’ is used unless that is the actual title.
However, if someone has left a position and that is indicated with a word like ‘former,’ then the title should appear in lower case, as in former marketing director Ray Graham. Capitalization of job titles and descriptions are correct when writing to, or orally addressing someone directly, as in, “Aye, aye, Captain!”
Top Misspelled Words
Just last week, I was asked on two separate occasions how to spell the common word ‘separate.’ One friend insisted there was an alternate spelling to go with the two alternate pronunciations. It’s true that the word sounds different when you say, for example, “Make sure you separate the eggs first,” as opposed to “There will be five separate courses for Thanksgiving dinner.” I assured her there was no alternate spelling for separate. A day later, another friend sending a text asked how to spell ‘separating.’ Is ‘separate’ really such a commonly misspelled word?
In fact, according to a British study by OnePoll.com of 3,500 people, reported in The Telegraph, ‘separate’ is the most often misspelled word in the English language. The typical error is replacing the first ‘a’ with an ‘e’, to make it ‘seperate.’ Perhaps this stems from the fact there are two pronunciations. Here are the other most frequently misspelled English words, according to The Telegraph:
Laudable/Laudatory: These similar words are quite different in meaning. While ‘laudable’ describes something deserving praise, as a laudable performance, ‘laudatory’ means expressing praise, as in “the chairman made laudatory comments about the sales team’s performance.”
Lectern/Podium: Simply put, a lectern is a stand that supports a speaker’s notes, while a podium is a platform on which he stands. Although these differences are generally well known, surprisingly, the word podium in particular is sometimes used in error to mean lectern.
Levee/Levy: You may not have a need to use ‘levee’ in your business communications since it means a dike or earthen embankment, as in the American Pie lyric, “Drove my Chevy to the levee…” But if you mean a tax, make sure it is spelled with a ‘y’, as in, “A new levy on cigarettes will be introduced soon.”