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Reply to "did - had"

@Ahmed towab posted:

I think it is better to put children and mothers instead of the pronoun " they", and it would be completely meaningful and acceptable

( Now fewer children and mothers  have health problems than children and mothers had ( did ) in the past.

Hi, Ahmed towab—That solution does not sit well with me, either. Whether "they" is used or "children and mothers," the sentence will be of questionable grammaticality. I do not claim that the sentence is outright ungrammatical in either case, only that it is subtly ill-formed.

While the subject in the main clause is restricted or qualified by "fewer," it is not in the comparative clause ("all" children and mothers) and, as a result, the comparison does not work.



Good point, Gustavo. Whether "they" or "children and mothers" is used in the "than"-clause, there remains the problem that, while a lesser quantity is being referred to in the main-clause subject, no quantity of children and mothers is picked out by the "than"-clause. Interestingly, the following does work:

(2) Now fewer children and mothers have health problems than the number of children and mothers that had health problems 100 years ago.

Instead of "the number of children and mothers that . . .," we could also have "the amount/quantity of them that . . . ." Notice that, in (2), "than" is not a subordinating conjunction introducing a clause but a preposition whose object is a noun phrase (headed by "number") modified by a relative clause.

But when "than" is a subordinating conjunction introducing a comparative clause, the term of comparison from the main clause is, as far as I can tell, never repeated in the "than"-clause (in standard educated usage, Longman's exercise notwithstanding). Here's another published example:

Quote:

"More people use this brand than (use) any other window-cleaning fluid."

- Quirk et al. (1985), Section 15.65, p. 1130.  A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language. Longman.

Quirk et al. place "use" in parentheses in the "than"-clause. That means that it is possible to use the term or to omit it. I submit that, were it grammatical to duplicate not only the verb of the main clause but its subject too, they would have placed "people" or "they" in parentheses, as well. But they didn't.

With inanimate objects in passive clauses, the construction whose grammaticality I am disputing seems especially bad:

(3a) Fewer cars were washed today than were washed yesterday.
(3b) *Fewer cars were washed today than they were washed yesterday.
(3c) *Fewer cars were washed today than cars were washed yesterday.

Lastly, returning to the point that there is not repetition (in standard educated usage) within the comparative clause of the comparative element from the main clause, I think it is worthwhile to observe that grammaticality varies here depending on whether there is sameness or difference in the "than"-clause.

(3c) *Fewer cars were washed today than cars were washed yesterday.
(3d) Fewer cars were washed today than trucks were washed yesterday.

(4a) This board is longer than that board is.
(4b) *This board is longer than that board is long.
(4c) This board is longer than that board is wide.

Last edited by David, Moderator
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