toefl guide

TOEFL Writing Essential Words - Part 5 - Words that express the meaning of difference and variety

Madison Oster October 12th, 2021

In this post, we are going to look at words that express the meaning of difference and variety. We are going to look at two groups of words today. The first group of words we will be looking at includes words related to variety, in particular, the words "vary", "varied", "varying", "various", "variety". For the second group of words, we will be looking at words that show the difference and will talk about "differ", "differentiation", "differentiate". You are maybe using one or the other of these words already. Today we want to discuss the different meanings and usages of these sometimes confusing words so that you can use them correctly and do not get points deducted from your TOEFL exam. :) Let’s find out in today’s post!


In the first group, we will start with the word “vary”.

The verb "vary" can be used as a transitive or intransitive verb. For those who are not familiar with these terms: transitive means with an object and intransitive without. When it is used as a transitive verb, it means to change something. Often we use the verb vary when you're talking about changing up our usual routine. For example,

  1. If your schedule changes at work, you might have to vary your sleeping habits.
  2. I try to vary my diet by eating different kinds of foods.

Vary, however, is more often used as an intransitive verb, to express the meaning “to be different”.  Here, the preposition “from” is often used with ‘vary’. Let’s look at two patterns using the phrase ‘vary from’. The first one is

[A] vary/varies from [B] to [B]

It means [A] is different for each [B]. Here are example sentences:

  1. The effects of this medicine vary from person to person.
  2. The shape of the moon varies from day to day.
  3. The textbooks vary from school to school.

The second pattern is

[A] vary/varies from [B] to [C]

It means sometimes [A] is [B], and sometimes [A] is [C]. Look at the following examples:

  1. The weather alternatively varies from rainy to sunny in the summer.
  2. Reviews of the new movie vary from positive to negative.
  3. Colors vary from light to dark.
  4. This music varies from loud to soft and fast to slow.
  5. His mood varies from happy to sad depending on the time of day.

"Vary" is also often used with the preposition "in" when things are different in size, amount, degree, but are still part of the same general class. Here are examples:

  1. Subspecies vary considerably in size
  2. Diamonds vary in size.
  3. Chromosomes vary in number and shape among living things


Okay! The next word is “Varied”.

Varied is an adjective. Think of "varied" as describing something that has many altered forms or sth. that has been changed often. For example,

  1. There are many varied ideas on how to improve the economy.
  2. The artist has painted in varied styles as his interests have changed over the years.
  3. A varied workout routine will keep you from getting bored.

Also, we can say something is varied when it covers a wide range of things. For example,

  1. We try to eat a more varied diet.
  2. She has varied [=diverse, various] interests.
  3. Moving on to the next word “various”


Various is an adjective that describes several different kinds of things, like a candy shop that is home to various sweets, from lollipops to chocolate fudge. If you have various interests, you might love hip hop, movies from the 1940s, fixing cars, and reading fashion magazines. Various can convey the meaning of “numerous” or “many”, like when you say, "Various people want to get involved with the park clean-up." This means a lot of people want to help.


Moving on the next word “varying”. A lot of people are confused about the difference between various and varying.

As you just learned, various means "different" in the idea of more than one kind of thing. On the other hand, varying means "different aspects or features" of the same kind of thing.

Here are examples using the word varying,

  1. Dress in layers so that you will be comfortable in varying room temperatures.
  2. Clients may have varying experience. There is a spectrum ranging from inexperienced, first-time clients to highly experienced, seasoned clients.


Variation means a change or slight difference in condition, amount, or level. If we talk about variations from accepted standards, we often talk about important or critical things that need our attention. The word variation is used with the preposition ‘in’. For example,

  1. A variation in a heartbeat pattern can tell a doctor that a heart attack might be imminent.
  2. The variation in weather temperatures from what is expected indicates that our climate is changing due to global warming.
  3. The more genes you look at, the more variation you’ll find,
  4. Some scientists estimate height is influenced by as many as 93,000 genetic variations.


Let’s look at the next word which is “variety”.

Variety is a noun that is a category of things distinguished by some common characteristic or quality. For example, if you got a variety pack of chocolates, you would get a pack of chocolates that has milk chocolate, dark chocolate, almond chocolate, etc.

The phrase ‘a variety of’ or ‘a great/wide variety of’ is often used. Here are example sentences:

  1. This shopping center offers a variety of leisure activities
  2. Our national park is home to a variety of wildlife including birds and types of bats.
  3. Students are offered a wide variety of courses in this department.
  4. People attend college for a variety of reasons.

Variety can also describe different things that are classified under one category or type. For example,

  1. There are fifty varieties of fish.
  2. 7,500 varieties of apples are grown throughout the world.
  3. It is important for farmers to understand what varieties of crops can grow in different seasons.

Finally, you might have heard the word ”a variety show”. A variety show is entertainment that includes a number of different and unrelated acts, like fire eaters, string bands, comedians, lounge singers, and spoon players.

Woo! That’s a lot of words already. But we are not done yet :) We still haven’t looked at the second group of words, which talks about the difference. I suppose most of you know how to use the words ‘different’ and ‘difference, so we won’t cover these two in this post.


Okay! The first word in this group is the verb to differ. It means to be different from something else. You will often see the following patterns with the word differ

  1. A differ/differs from B
  2. A differ/differs from B to B
  3. _________ (multiple similar things) differ in C

The first one  “A differ/differs from B” means A is different from B. For example,

  1. English differs from Spanish in that it is not pronounced as it is written.
  2. Korean cuisine differs from English cuisine, because it is much spicier.

Notice the preposition “in” in the first sentence. The pattern is

A differ/differs from B in ___ (what aspect is difference)

So you can change the second sentence to

  1. Korean cuisine differs from English cuisine in that it is much spicier.

Okay! Let’s look at the next pattern “A differ/differs from B to B”. It means [A] is different for every [B]. In this case, it is the same as ‘A vary/varies from B to B’. Here are example sentences:

  1. Laws on pollution differ widely from country to country.
  2. Textbooks differ from school to school.

The third pattern is ‘___ (a group of similar things) differ in C”.  This pattern means C is the characteristic that identifies the difference among a group of similar things. Here is an example sentence:

  1. Although they are similar in many respects, bonobos and chimpanzees differ greatly in social and sexual behaviours.


Okay! The next word is “differentiate”.

To differentiate is to identify the differences between things. You often see two patterns with the word differentiate.

  1. differentiate between A and B
  2. sth. differentiates A from B

The pattern “differentiate between A and B” means to see or show a difference between A and B. For example,

  1. Joe is color-blind and cannot differentiate between red and green.
  2. The camouflage of octopuses makes it difficult for their predators to differentiate between them and rocks.   

But “sth. differentiates A from B” means A has the quality or feature that makes A different from B. For example,

  1. The ability to speak differentiates humans from other animals.
  2. Although both whales and sharks are aquatic animals, the fact that whales are mammals differentiates whales from sharks.


The noun form of ‘differentiate’ is differentiation.

So the pattern of ‘differentiate between A and B’ can be paraphrased to “make a differentiation between A and B ”. For example,

  1. Joe is color-blind and cannot differentiate between red and green. = Joe is color-blind and cannot make a differentiation between red and green.

Other example sentences of the word ‘differentiation’ are as follows:

  1. Product differentiation is an important aspect of business.
  2. Companies should work hard to achieve differentiation in products.


Okay! This is the end of today’s post. I suggest you look at this post a couple of times to learn how to use the words and phrases we taught you today. You should create your own sentences when learning these words. Next time you encounter these words, you should be able to understand them better and use them correctly.





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