The conversation in this Mr. Lowe comic illustrates two mistakes. Let’s take them one at a time. Here’s the comic:
Some idioms for comparing things in English are”as good as” and “better than.” That second one can be “less than” “more than” “colder than” and so on. Those compare two things. When you have more than two, it’s “best of” “least of” “most of” “coldest of” and so on. I don’t hear people get this wrong very often, mostly by people inexperienced in English, such as young kids.
Can you tell what the other mistake is? Lots of people get this wrong. The comparison hinges on what you’re comparing; you can compare subjects and you can compare objects. When it’s an object, “them,” “me,” him,” or “her” is correct. When you compare subjects, you need to use “they,” “I,” “he,” or “she.” An illustration might help.
Correct: I could do a better job than they. (The second verb is assumed. The full sentence is “I could do a better job than they do.”
Incorrect: “I could do a better job than them.” Say the whole sentence: “I could do a better job than them do.”
Correct: I like you more than her. (Filling in the missing words: “I like you more than I like her.”)
Incorrect: I like you more than she. (Actually, this can be correct if you mean that I like you more than she likes you. But the meaning is different!)
Why is it so hard to get this correct? Because “than” feels a lot like a preposition, which takes objects, and the subjuct of a sentence is usually clear up at the beginning, where it doesn’t have much attraction.
My advice: put the missing words in the sentence.
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“All marcom people are insane.”
That’s a motto of technical writers everywhere. Marcom is short for “marketing communications.” You know, advertising and stuff like that. This post is about one of the reasons tech writers say that marcom people are insane. First, a comic.
I suppose technical writers aren’t the only ones who cringe at this. The mistake, in case you didn’t get it, is stating only half of a comparison. I see this all the time in advertising. Every bag of chips, it seems, has 40% less fat. 40% less fat than what? Less than before? Less than the competition? Less than apples?
Here’s the rule: When you use the comparative, say what you’re comparing it to. (The comparative usually ends in -er.) Is it faster? Say what it’s faster than. Is something better? Tell them better than what. (Beware of saying better than ever. I heard some guy made a product called “ever” so he could sue folks for demeaning his product.)
In marketing they rely on context to imply (sometimes mislead) what’s being compared, but when you explain something, don’t leave the comparison to chance, spell it out. That’s better.
Now an exercise for the reader: spelling it out is better than what?
PS. I just ran into another comparison word that frequently appears without its “compared to” term. See below. It’s Tina’s Groove for June 12.
I know I mention case a lot, but I like to post comics about grammar, and I happened to run into one that uses case both correctly and incorrectly in a construction that can be tricky to get right—comparison. First the comic.
I like Scott Meyer’s work because of his clever humor. Apparently that’s Scott on the right. I don’t know if the fellow on the left represents an actual person, but usually he’s the one who makes the mistakes. This time he gets it right and Scott makes the mistake. Look at the first speech.
I heard the boss yelling. Did you tell him that you’re smarter than him again?
Remember the last post, about copulatives and predicate nominatives? Yup, he should have said “…you’re smarter than he.” The uncompressed sentence is “…that you are smarter than he is.” “He” sounds correct now, doesn’t it?
Go to the last cell, first speech.
Why shouldn’t I be able to tell people that I’m smarter than they?
“They” is correct! The expanded sentence is “…I am smarter than they are.” Sounds right, doesn’t it?
As a footnote, I should point out that the captions on to two last cells use “its” and “it’s” correctly. But you noticed that, didn’t you?