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@ahmed_btm posted:

'Did' seems more natural and more emphatic, but both are correct.

- Now fewer children and mothers have health problems than they did have / used to have / had 100 years ago.

Hello, Ahmed and Ahmed—None of those options works for me in the sentence as it is written: "did have," "had," or "used to have."

Those would all be appropriate choices if the sentences read: "Now children and mothers have fewer health problems than they did 100 years ago."

However, "fewer" is placed before the subject. It is quantified subjects that are being compared, not quantified objects of "have." I recommend:

  • Now fewer children and mothers have health problems than had them 100 years ago.
  • Fewer children and mothers have health problems now than 100 years ago.
Last edited by David, Moderator

Hi, David,

Hello, Ahmed and Ahmed—None of those options works for me in the sentence as it is written: "did have," "had," or "used to have."

Those would all be appropriate choices if the sentences read: "Now children and mothers have fewer health problems than they did 100 years ago."

However, "fewer" is placed before the subject. It is quantified subjects that are being compared, not quantified objects of "have." I recommend:

  • Now fewer children and mothers have health problems than had them 100 years ago.
  • Fewer children and mothers have health problems now than 100 years ago.

Yes, I completely agree with you. In fact, this sentence is found in Sec 1 and it uses 'did'. I first read it as you did, then I thought that the writer uses 'they' to refer to 'children and mothers'. It is illogical to say that 'they' refers to 'fewer children and mothers' as the sentence will be meaningless then.

Last edited by ahmed_btm
@ahmed_btm posted:

Yes, I completely agree with you. In fact, this sentence is found in Sec 1 and it uses 'did'. I first read it as you did, then I thought that the writer uses 'they' to refer to 'children and mothers'. It is illogical to say that 'they' refers to 'fewer children and mothers' as the sentence will be meaningless then.

Hi, Ahmed_btm—Your proposal here is very interesting, and I've been giving it a lot of thought. The "they" in the "than"-clause doesn't sit well with me on any interpretation in which it is co-referent with the subject of the main clause.

Also, if we replaced "they" with "children and mothers," the sentence would still strike me as grammatically ill-formed. I believe that there is a restriction here whereby, if the second subject is the same, it can't be expressed.

Although I am still doing some research on this matter, I have just thought of a nifty way to demonstrate that the restriction I am talking about is real. Consider the following sentences:

(1a) Fewer people have health problems than animals do.
(1b) Fewer people than animals have health problems.

(1a) and (1b) show that the "than"-clause relates to the comparative term in the subject NP in such a way that, if the predicates of the two clauses are the same, ["than" + subject of the "than"-clause] can be embedded in the subject NP.

Now, in Ahmed Imam Attia's example, the predicate of the main clause is not identical to the predicate of the "than"-clause, so the type of embedding we see in (1b) is not possible.

Nevertheless, the comparative term in the subject NP of the main clause ("fewer") relates to the subject of the "than"-clause, and we may observe the impossibility of the following:

  • Fewer people than people . . . .
  • Fewer children and mothers than children and mothers . . . .
Last edited by David, Moderator

What an interesting discussion, David and Ahmed!

I think the main clue lies in what David said here:

[...] the comparative term in the subject NP of the main clause ("fewer") relates to the subject of the "than"-clause, and we may observe the impossibility of the following:

  • Fewer people than people . . . .
  • Fewer children and mothers than children and mothers . . . .

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. My view is that some focus should be placed on the quantitative value of "fewer" so that it ceases to be a mere determiner in the NP "fewer children and mothers."  I think these would work (what do you think?):

- Children and mothers who have/having health problems are fewer now than they were 100 years ago.

or

- There are fewer children and mothers who have/having health problems now than there were 100 years ago.

Hi, Gustavo,

It is great to see your enlightening comments here again. I was getting worried about your absence for some time and was about to ask David's permission to allow me to send you an e-mail to make sure that you are OK.


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.

Yes, I understand what David meant here and I agree that its formation isn't a good one, but I was just trying to find any logical solution to have such a sentence in one of our school books, particularly it is revised by Longman Publishing Company.

My view is that some focus should be placed on the quantitative value of "fewer" so that it ceases to be a mere determiner in the NP "fewer children and mothers."  I think these would work (what do you think?):

- Children and mothers who have/having health problems are fewer now than they were 100 years ago.

or

- There are fewer children and mothers who have/having health problems now than there were 100 years ago.

They are perfect, of course, but I have another idea. What do you think of it?

- Now fewer children and mothers have health problems than ever before (at any time in the past).

@ahmed_btm posted:

It is great to see your enlightening comments here again. I was getting worried about your absence for some time and was about to ask David's permission to allow me to send you an e-mail to make sure that you are OK.

Thank you, Ahmed. I had an overwhelming amount of work that kept me away from GE for some days. Not more than that, fortunately.

@ahmed_btm posted:

I have another idea. What do you think of it?

- Now fewer children and mothers have health problems than ever before (at any time in the past).

My impression is that after "than" there is ellipsis of "they did," so in my opinion the fewer children and mothers/(all) children and mothers conflict arises once again.

Last edited by Gustavo, Contributor
@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

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.

That's very interesting, and I agree with you that the numbers or quantities of children and mothers having health problems now and 100 years ago are being compared. I think this also works, doesn't it?:

2.a. Now fewer children and mothers have health problems than those who/that had health problems 100 years ago.

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.

Excellent find, David. Your search couldn't have been more thorough. The sentence above sounds to me as if "more" had been moved from an adverbial to an adjectival position:

- People use this brand more than (they use) any other window-cleaning fluid.

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.

Excellent examples and explanation, in particular your reference to the sameness or difference in the "than"-clause.

As I said in (2.a) above, I think (3.a) can be similarly transformed into:

3.a'. Fewer cars were washed today than those that were washed yesterday.

Last edited by Gustavo, Contributor

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