More on Case of pronouns after than

 

A:

So far we have looked only at comparatives of adverbs. We need to take a look at pronoun choice with comparisons of adjectives as well as with adverbs. What should we say—She is older/more intelligent than me or She is older/more intelligent than I? What about pronouns other than I and me?

According to Quirk et al. (A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language, Longman, 1985), “the choice between [I] and [me] [after than] is a well-known prescriptive issue.” They state further that “[than I] is not a reduction of than I am but a hypercorrect variant of ...than me.”

A search of the COBUILD Concordance and Collocations Sampler (http://titania.cobuild.collins.co.uk/form.html) is very revealing. Overwhelmingly, the objective pronoun forms me, him, her, them are preferred. I did not find any instances of than plus the subjective form (I, he, she, or they) that are not followed by a verb (e.g. I drove more slowly than they wanted me to). If the subjective form is used, it is always followed by a verb or verb phrase. I found no subjective form with ellipsis (omission) of the verb or verb phrase in the COBUILD corpus (but see discussion of Biber et al. below).

On the other hand, countless examples appear of comparative constructions with than me, than him, than her, and than them, with British examples slightly outnumbering examples of American usage. This was slightly more the case with adjectives that formed the comparative in –er than with adjectives that formed the comparative with more, although there were many examples of each. Some of the –er adjectives are

older/ younger / taller / shorter / better / smaller / stronger / worse / prouder / slower / slimmer / smarter / crazier

Examples could be:

(a) My sister is older than me.
or
(b)

She is older than I am.

 

(c) I'm slimmer than her.
or
(d) I am slimmer than she is.

 

Adjectives using more include

skeptical / grown-up / responsible / unmaterialistic / tired / conservative / adept / open (said of persons)

Examples could be:

(e) We can't hire Frank! He's a playboy. We need someone much more responsible than him.
or
(f)

....more responsible than he is.

 

(g) I know you're tired, but you can't be more tired than me.
or
(h) ..........more tired than I am.

 

Adjectivals consisting of an adverb modifying a participial adjective include

better equipped / heavier-handed / better qualified

An example could be:

(i) Burt is better qualified than her for the job.
(j) Burt is equipped than she is for the job.

In all these cases, the pronoun of choice is the objective form [as in (a), (c), (e) (g) and (i)] when no verb follows the pronoun [as in (b), (d), (f), (h) and (j)].

These findings are reinforced by Biber et al. (Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written English), which states “The accusative [objective] forms are the only ones attested in conversation, where as and than seem to behave like prepositions rather than conjunctions introducing elliptic degree clauses.” (Section 4.10.6.2). (I should add that the study included not only pronoun forms after than but also pronoun forms in as...as constructions.) The only kind of discourse in which the subjective form is found in the Biber corpus is fiction, where instances of the objective form still outnumber those with the subjective form.

Quirk et al. agree that the objective form is the preferred choice. Like Biber, they suggest that in these constructions, than, as well as as, can be considered not a conjunction but a preposition. This reinforces the motivation to choose the objective pronoun when there is no following verb or verb phrase.

Except in hyperformal discourse, then, it is standard practice to choose the objective pronoun unless the pronoun serves as the expressed subject of a second clause.

Marilyn Martin


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