Advanced Business Writing
Rules and Usage

Different/Into/May

Different

The word different can be used in place of words such as various, separate, or distinct. People will understand you, but they will not understand you as well as if you had used a more precise word. Instead, be more clear in your thinking and in your choice of words. Your true genius will shine in the lucidity of your sparkling prose.

Second, don't be anxious when it comes to choosing between different from and different than. The main difference between the two phrases is cultural preference. British are picky: they prefer to say different from. Americans are not as picky; they say either. To play it safe, you could always use different from. Or, if you want to be as politically correct as possible, you could use a memory aid as a guide:

• This is different from Oxford.

• They're different than Americans.

Into

When you are not sure whether to use into or in to in a sentence, there is an easy editing trick that usually works.

In your mind, substitute the words in order to for the word to. If the sentence still makes sense, then the word to is an infinitive marker and should be kept separate from the word in.

The division manager stopped in?to check up on us.

The division manager stopped in in order to check up on us.
[makes sense]

The division manager stopped in to check up on us.
[correct and clear]

The new law should be taken in?to account.

The new law should be taken in in order to account.
[not good]

The new law should be taken into account.
[correct and clear]

May

In terms of hypothetical possibility, the words may and might are often interchangeable.

A traditional exception involves degrees of hypothetical possibilities. Consider these sentences:

I may go out for lunch, so text me around noon.

I might go out for lunch, if I'm in the mood.

Here, the possibility expressed by might is more tentative than that displayed by may. This distinction is slowly fading in common usage, however, so don't worry too much about it.

Another exception involves tense:

She thinks that she may go to Brazil next summer.
[present tense possibility]

She thought that she might go to Brazil next summer.
[past tense possibility]

This distinction may also be fading, but it can provide helpful clarity.

The same holds true for may have versus might have:

The malware might have corrupted the OS had it not been detected and neutralized.
[clear]

This wording implies that the OS was not corrupted. It might have been, but the threat was thwarted.

The malware may have corrupted the OS had it not been detected and neutralized.
[ambiguous]

This wording starts by allowing for the possibility that the OS was corrupted, but then it ends by implying that the OS was not corrupted. (That can leave your reader confused.)

When describing a possibility from the vantage point of the past, consider using might instead of may. Intelligent readers will appreciate the distinction and its consequent clarity.

Lesson: Different/Into/May
Module: Rules and Usage
Course: Advanced Business Writing