more than I

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more than I

Post by azz » Thu Aug 20, 2020 12:43 pm

Would anyone use
a. John loves you more than me.
or
b. John loves you more than I.


instead of

c. John loves you more than I do.

?

I think (b) is correct, but it sounds archaic to me. I don't think (a) is ambiguous. I'd say it can only mean

d. John loves you more than he loves me.

But I am not entirely sure that some people do not use (a) instead of (c).

Many thanks.
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Re: more than I

Post by Shelley » Thu Aug 20, 2020 5:43 pm

Hi azz --

I think your instinct is correct here. Nevertheless, a) remains ambiguous, because "me" and "I" will be used interchangeably, correct or not. b) is correct and not archaic at all, in my opinion. Adding "do" as in c) really clears up the ambiguity, though.

Btw, when I deal with stuff like this (i.e., me or I, us or we) it helps sometimes if I break it down:

a) John loves you more than me, as opposed to b) John loves you more than I.

Leaving John out of it for the moment: it's correct to say "I love you," and one would never say "Me love you."

That's how I figure it out when I'm stumped.
Cheers!
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Re: more than I

Post by Phil White » Fri Aug 21, 2020 3:09 pm

This is a really fraught question and, as with a number of other issues in English grammar, has been clouded by the pronouncements of absurd 18th century prescriptivist idiots.

The consensus among grammarians nowadays is that "than" is a conjunction and a preposition.

In your sentences c and d, "than" is a conjunction, and that is the end of the story.

And in your sentence b, "than" is also a conjunction, exactly as in sentence c, but the verb has been ellipted from the "than" clause. We know that "than" is not a preposition, because prepositions always demand the objective or oblique case in English (from me, with me, to me, because of me, ...).

Which leaves us with your sentence b.
Before I actually have a look at sentence b, let's have a look at a couple of other examples:
  • He plays darts better than me.
  • He drives far worse than her.
Both of these are absolutely acceptable in English, and as azz suggests, the alternatives sound stilted:
  • He plays darts better than I.
  • He drives far worse than she.
Indeed, the second one in particular sounds pretty preposterous nowadays.

In both cases, the word "than" is being treated as a preposition and is taking the oblique case.

This is nothing new. There are plenty of examples from Shakespeare, Dryden, Fielding or pretty well any revered author you care to mention where this prepositional form is preferred. Even the great grammarian Samuel Johnson wrote "No man had ever more discernment than him, in finding out the ridiculous."

In my two examples and in the Johnson example, the test Shelley proposed would require the subjective case rather than the oblique or objective case, but they are not wrong.

The only circumstance in which this usage becomes potentially problematic is where the main clause features a transitive verb that can have a human subject and object. This applies in particular to verbs indicating emotional responses (love/hate/like/...), but in principle any verb that has a human object:
  • Rosie punched Maggie harder than me.
  • George painted Peter better than me.
Both of these sentences are ambiguous, and either interpretation is equally plausible. If, like the absurd 18th century grammarians, you insist that "than" is always a conjunction, then there is only one interpretation for each of the sentences:
  • Rosie punched Maggie harder than she punched me.
  • George painted Peter better than he painted me.
If you accept, as most modern grammarians do, that "than" can be a preposition, the sentences remain ambiguous. As always, context will resolve most confusion (both Maggie and I have black eyes, George is a painter and I am not). But in cases where pragmatics do not resolve the ambiguity, we would instinctively revert to the conjunction "than" followed by a full clause ("than I did", "than she punched me", and so on).

So, throughout the history of English, sentence a has been grammatically acceptable, but there will be occasions with this construction where the utterance is ambiguous, in which case most speakers would revert to version c or d as appropriate. Sentence b will sometimes be used for meaning c and is unambiguous.
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Signature: Phil White
Non sum felix lepus

Re: more than I

Post by Shelley » Fri Aug 21, 2020 6:47 pm

Yeah, azz -- what he said!
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Re: more than I

Post by azz » Sat Aug 22, 2020 9:16 am

Thank you both so much.

Phil, your answers are absolutely amazing. Thank you so much.
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