Our language gives you the right words to express yourself clearly—so put them to use
One of the great features of the English language is its capacity to allow its users to communicate accurately and without ambiguity. Ironically, it's this very attribute that can grate on some people's nerves. What's the difference if I use while instead of although? Who cares if I use different than instead of from? Since vs. because? It's all the same, isn't it?
Well, not really. And if you don’t want to risk being misunderstood, it's good to know the differences and what's best to use when. After all, because English offers us so many nuances, it would be foolish not to take advantage of them—and in the process, achieve clarity in our writing and speech.
Let's take a look at what those differences are.
While vs. although
Webster's says that it's not incorrect to use while when you mean although. In fact, one of its definitions for while is "although on the one hand."
While the consultation is taking three months, the implementation will take only one month.
However, the primary definition of while (or whilst, chiefly in British usage) is "during or throughout the time that." Therefore, it can be confusing when you use while to mean although.
Here's an example in which the confusion is evident:
While you were looking for a certain product, I was able to show you that this other product is better.
Do you mean that although
the person was looking for something, you were able to show him something better? Or are you saying that at the same time that
the person was looking for something, you were able to show him something better?
If it's the former, you can be confident that you're communicating clearly when you use although
instead of while
Here's another example. Instead of:
While we partner with XYZ Inc., we can also partner with one of XYZ's competitors.
Different from vs. different than
Although we partner with XYZ Inc., we can also partner with one of XYZ's competitors.
What's the difference between the two phrases? One's correct; the other's not. It's always, always different from.
Incorrect: That version is different than the one I reviewed earlier.
Correct: That version is different from the one I reviewed earlier.
Need help remembering which phrase to use? Change the adjective different into the verb differ, then apply the words from and than and see which one makes sense. You can differ from someone, for instance; but you can never differ than.
Because vs. since
There is a distinction between the two; however, whatever rules may have governed the distinction have slackened. Most of the reference guides that I have on hand say it's OK to use since instead of because, except in formal situations. The Associated Press Stylebook prefers the use of because when denoting a specific cause-effect relationship:
I paid Jim $10, because I lost that bet.
Now, consider these examples and what they imply:
Drew's been miserable since Dinah went away.
Drew's been miserable, because Dinah went away.
In the first example, Drew's misery is not necessarily directly attributable to Dinah's departure; whereas, in the second example, it's clear that it is.