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08/09/2010

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Steve Hall

Now I'm confused—and not about the punctuation.

You wrote, "...they're smarter than me." I should probably look this up in my brand-spanking new copy of CMOS16 (arrived Saturday!), but I thought the proper construction is, "They're smarter than I (am)." (The "am" being unspoken but understood.)

Or is either correct?

Steve Hall

I did look it up; 5-179. I think I still prefer "they're smarter than I." :)

Carol Fisher Saller

Steve, I believe my choice is correct for conversational writing. The formal construction is appropriate for formal documents.

Cheers,
Carol

Mary Offermann

I agree with Steve; there is no reason to dumb down the language for conversation. When we speak correctly, we reinforce the proper use of the language.

Linda Miller-Smith

love this! thank you so much.

Adrian Barri

Good English is good English, conversational or not; this isn't like French or German where we actually have formal and informal cases (or neuter articles for that matter). If the first-person reference is the sentence object, then use 'me', not 'I'. If there is a reversed subject, then by all means use 'I'. Examples: "they're smarter than me" (object). "He and I are the users" (First-person reversed subject).

Joe Sokohl

Carol's right: colloquially, the "they're smarter than me" works better stylistically than "they're smarter than I" -- unless you explicitly put the verb after the I.

Sometimes style and tone and voice win over pedantry.

Nan Erkert

The context almost insists upon the 'me.' If she had been saying, 'They're not as smart as...', than 'I' might have been a better choice. As it is, the humble little 'me' adds to the overall charm of Carol's style.

Carol Fisher Saller

(We're still talking about punctuation, right? Right?)

Account Deleted

@Adrian Barri re: "They're smarter than me."

I must correct you. "Me" is not an object in that sentence; it's a subject. The subject form of "me" is "I". The correct construction is "they're smarter than I", where the full phrase implied is "they're smarter than I am" or "they're smarter than how smart I am".

"Than" has nothing to do with whether nouns are subjects or objects. Whether they're subjects or objects depends only on how they're used in their phrases, regardless of whether those phrases are expressed or implied. Things contrasted by "than" must be of the same grammatical type, so if the item on one side of "than" is a subject, the item on the other side must also be a subject (if an object, an object; if a verb, a verb; etc.).

To illustrate, I've gone through several iterations of the same sentence below. The iterations with asterisks are the ones where the subject-object difference is apparent. The iteration with double asterisks is the clearest of all. Be sure to read very carefully:

SCENARIO 1 (child wants strongly, newborn is greater than toys, newborn wants weakly):

A child wants toys more than a newborn wants toys, but a child wants a newborn more than a child wants toys. In other words, a child wants toys more than a newborn, but a child wants a newborn more than toys.

The first subject wants the object more than the second subject wants the object, but the first subject wants the second subject more than the first subject wants the object. In other words, the first subject wants the object more than the second subject, but the first subject wants the second subject more than the object.

*He wants toys more than she wants toys, but he wants her more than he wants toys. In other words, he wants toys more than she, but he wants her more than toys.

*You want toys more than I want toys, but you want me more than you want toys. In other words, you want toys more than I, but you want me more than toys.

*You want toys more than I want toys, but you want me more than you want toys. In other words, you want toys more than I do, but you want me more than toys.

SCENARIO 2 (Brinkley wants strongly, toys are greater than Aiden, Aiden wants weakly):

Brinkley wants toys more than Aiden wants toys, and Brinkley wants toys more than she wants Aiden. In other words, Brinkley wants toys more than Aiden, and Brinkley wants toys more than Aiden.

The first subject wants the object more than the second subject wants the object, and the first subject wants the object more than the first subject wants the second subject. In other words, the first subject wants the object more than the second subject, and the first subject wants the object more than the second subject.

**She wants toys more than he wants toys, and she wants toys more than she wants him. In other words, she wants toys more than he, and she wants toys more than him.

I want toys more than you want toys, and I want toys more than I want you. In other words, I want toys more than you, and I want toys more than you.

*I want toys more than you want toys, and I want toys more than I want you. In other words, I want toys more than you do, and I want toys more than you.

Carol Fisher Saller

Thanks, Adrian, but I respectfully disagree!

The Chicago Manual of Style (17th ed.) has my back at 5.183 (http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/book/ed17/part2/ch05/psec183), and American Heritage Dictonary (s.v. "than") calls the rule insisting on "I" in such constructions "contrived" and "pedantic" (https://www.ahdictionary.com/word/search.html?q=than).

Would you be able to cite a current authority supporting your view?

Account Deleted

@Carol Fisher Saller:

I'm not Adrian; I was responding to Adrian above.

Adrian said "me" is an object in the sentence "they're smarter than me", which isn't true. "Me" is the object form of "I", but in that usage, it's performing the work of a subject. The compared (contrasted) elements on either side of "than" in any sentence have to both be of the same type, or else the sentence doesn't make sense. So since "they" is a subject and "they" is the element being compared to "me", "me" also has to be a subject.

Let me be clear: I couldn't care less whether anyone uses "me" or "I" in that sentence. That style choice was never a question I set out to address. My point is only that the grammatical function of either of those words in that position is subject, not object (i.e. "they're smarter than I" and "they're smarter than me" are functionally identical).

Sincerely,
Salz

Carol Fisher Saller

I'm sorry, Salz! Nice to clear that up.

I think I disagree, however. Functionally, "than" serves two distinct purposes here: it's a conjunction introducing an understood clause with the subject "I," or a preposition with the object "me."

Account Deleted

How should you punctuate the following sentence? Should you use both the dash and comma together?

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