October 14, 1999
Eric Newman wrote:
In speaking with my aunt, with whom I often have debates about grammar and usage, I said about something-or-other, "I know different." Basing her response on the "rule" that only linking verbs are modified with the adjectival form as opposed to the adverbial (e.g., "I feel bad," not "I feel badly"), my aunt responded that I should have said, "I know differently." I acknowledged the validity of the rule cited above but pointed out that when I said, "I know different" I wasn't saying that the manner in which I know something was different from any other manner but that my comment was elliptical for "I have different information." My aunt claims that this reasoning has no basis in grammatical structure. What do you say?
While your argument is strong logically, I am afraid that I have to agree with your aunt linguistically.
As you mention, copula verbs and verbs of perception (to be, smell, look, feel, etc.) are followed by the adjectival form. These adjectives are modifying the subject of the verb, not the verb itself. The different in "You look different" is therefore doing typical adjective work.
Your proposal is that different is modifying an implied, but unstated, noun in the predicate. So when you say "I think different," you are simply shortening "I think different things" or "I think something different" to mean "I disagree." While logical, your explanation does not work because nouns in these positions cannot be deleted.
The problem with "I think different [things]":
The problem with "I think [something] different":
Having eliminated these possibilities, I can say with some assurance that different in your sentence is acting as an adverb, and "I think different" should be "I think differently," according to prescriptive grammar. In an interesting side note, there is a class of adverbs that look like adjectives, known as flat adverbs. Examples of these adverbs-in-adjective-clothing are bad, right and slow. Most of these adjective look-alikes were "corrected" by 18th century grammarians, and now have the adverb's trademark -ly endings. Nonetheless, these adverbs still occasionally surface in their original forms, looking like adjectives. Most usage guides and dictionaries therefore warn their users about the double-life polysemy of flat adverbs. Different does not belong to this class, so different cannot be used as an adverb in standard American English.
That, of course, does not stop the wide use in informal speech of the adjectival from in the place of the adverbial form. This substitution has been discussed as a recent change in English; however, the adjective-for-adverb substitution is at least a century old. An example is found in Dickens' 19th century novel MARTIN CHUZZLEWIT: "Them which is of other natures thinks different." The use of the adjective in place of the adverb is certainly very common today. In browsing, I found this title for a Web page: "Hey you John Elway's the best and if you think different upyours!" In spite of its popularity, the substitution generally maintains a colloquial, informal feeling.
I would be remiss if I did not mention Apple Computer's latest slogan "Think Different." The ads feature unconventional thinkers who accomplished great things (Edison, Einstein, Gandhi). Apple's unconventional grammar has raised the eyebrows of linguists and consumers alike, and the ads have attracted some purely linguistic attention. In defense of the slogan, the company makes a good argument for "thinking vernacular" in advertising.
In spite of the prescriptive uproar, I have the feeling that "think different" is here to stay.
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