than whom

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than whom

Postby Audiendus » Wed Jun 08, 2011 8:18 am

In formal English, the following two sentences are regarded as grammatically correct:

1. God is a being than whom there is none greater.
2. There is none greater than he.

Why does the first "than" take the objective case, and the second the subjective?

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Postby Slava » Wed Jun 08, 2011 12:18 pm

My feeling is that #2 is a shortening of "There is none greater than he is."
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than whom

Postby Audiendus » Wed Jun 08, 2011 5:22 pm

Yes – 'than' is being used as a preposition in (1) and a conjunction in (2). But it seems odd that the prepositional use in (2) ['than him'] is not regarded by purists as a grammatically correct alternative.


Postby bnjtokyo » Fri Jun 10, 2011 11:37 pm

H. W. Fowler's Modern English Usage (revised by Sir Ernest Gowers) has a long article on this problem. He says "than" can be viewed as having three grammatical uses: strong conjunction, weak conjunction and preposition.

He says
"In 'You treat her worse than I treat her,' 'than' is a strong or subordinating conjunction . . . .'You treat her worse than I' may be so described with the explanation that there is an ellipsis of 'treat her'; or, alternative, 'than' may be called a weak or coordinating conjunction linking the two similarly constructed nouns 'you' and 'I.' In 'You treat her worse than me,' the same two names for 'than' are possible, but the ellipsis is of 'you treat' . . . those are the possibilities . . . with the only sense that an educated person gives it. But an uneducated person may mean . . . You treat her worse than I treat her; and . . . 'than' is not a conjunction . . . but a preposition . . . . 'than' as a preposition makes some sentences ambiguous that could otherwise have only one meaning ('I would rather you shot the poor dog than me'), and to that extent undesirable. The OED statement on the prepositional use is that, with the special exception of 'than whom,' which is preferred to 'than who' unless both can be avoided, 'it is now considered incorrect'. . . . But the prepositional use of 'than' is now so common colloquially (He is older than me'; 'They travelled much faster than us') that the bare subjective pronoun strikes the reader as pedantic, and it is better either to give it a more natural appearance by supplying it with a verb or to dodge the difficulty by not using an inflective pronoun at all."

Not having access to the OED (particularly the edition to which Fowler refers), I am unable to say anything about the 'special exception.' Can anyone tell us more than I can?

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Postby Dr. Goodword » Sat Jun 11, 2011 9:23 am

I can't find the term "special exception" in the OED entry, which treats than almost correctly, listing it as a "conjuntive particle" (it is actually a conjunction) and "as if it were a preposition" (it is actually just that, a preposition). Why they ever thought using the objective case with than is exceptional at all is beyond me. However, the errors in the article suffice to bring doubt upon most of what they say if not all.

As I once wrote in the blog, it is not at all uncommon throughout the world's languages for words to have two function. Prepositions doubling as conjunctions is not uncommon in the least: for, but (everyone came but John), before, are a few in English.

Moreover, bare VERBS also function as prepositions: save, except, being the most obvious (there are others).

Keeping in mind my own rule of thumb of consistency, I use the objective case with than as a preposition and the subjective when it is a conjunction: He is bigger than me but he is bigger than I am. It is simple, it is correct.

I am not denying that verb phrases may be deleted and that "He is bigger than I (am)" is incorrect, only that it is confusing and I am a firm believer that language should promote clarity.
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Postby Audiendus » Tue Jun 14, 2011 9:58 am

Thank you. I shall say "holier than thee" in future. :wink:

It is interesting that but, in the prepositional sense of 'except', is often followed by the subjective case. Examples:

Mark 12:32 (King James Version)
...there is one God, and there is none other but he.

Macbeth, Act 3, Scene 1
...There is none but he
Whose being do I fear...

Casabianca (poem)
The boy stood on the burning deck
Whence all but he had fled...

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