When used in comparative contexts involving a pronoun, the expression "better than..." becomes a source of confusion and tension. For instance, many users of English find it difficult to choose, as the right expression, between "better than HE..." and "better than HIM..." Which of them is right then? Both of them are😀😀😀!!! Why? Below is the explanation of the answer.
The correctness of both "better than HE..." and "better than HIM..." is based on the theories of CONJUNCTIONISM and PREPOSITIONISM. To join the endless debate and to make an informed choice, let us examine each of the theories.
As the name suggests, CONJUNCTIONISM views the word "THAN" as a conjunction that links two independent sentences (together) in comparative terms. Conjunctionists, therefore, argue that when the expression "better than..." is used two sentences are involved: one clearly stated and the other shortened or implied. Below is an illustrative sentence:
● I understand Arabic BETTER THAN Wunnam.
When we replace "Wunnam" with a pronoun, the sentence will read as:
● I understand Arabic better than HE.
In the view of conjunctionists, the full version of this statement contains two sentences, which are:
1 - I understand Arabic.
2 - He understands Arabic.
For comparative reasons, "better than" is used as a link between the two sentences. This way, the statement is written as:
● I understand Arabic better than HE understands Arabic.
But to keep the statement concise and precise, we can put it as:
● I understand Arabic better than HE DOES
● I understand Arabic better than HE.
It is instructive to state that in the CONJUNCTIONIST context, the pronoun is always a subject of a verb involved. That is why the pronoun is "HE."
Contrarily, PREPOSITIONISM regards "THAN" as a preposition. This way, PREPOSITIONISTS treat the corresponding pronoun as the object of the preposition. That explains why the pronoun is "HIM" in this context. To enhance understanding, let us restate the illustrative sentence in a PREPOSITIONIST situation.
● I understand Arabic better than Wunnam.
When "Wunnam" is replaced by a pronoun, the sentence will read as:
● I understand Arabic better than HIM.
Here, "HIM" functions as the object of the preposition "THAN" and NOT as the subject of the verb "understands."
Seemingly, pedants (Grammar Purists), who worship Traditional Grammar, prefer CONJUNCTIONISM to PREPOSITIONISM. But Modern Grammarians, most of whom are liberalists, accept both theories. Though we of LANGUAGE AGENDA are liberalists, our preference is CONJUNCTIONISM.
Our choice is informed by avoidance of ambiguity. Yes!!! Depending on the context, PREPOSITIONISM could create cases of ambiguity. Let us consider the following situation.
● Azindoo loves books MORE THAN Napaga.
If we replace "Napaga" with a pronoun in line with PREPOSITIONISM, the sentence will be:
● Azindoo loves books more than HER.
Certainly, this sentence is ambiguous in the face of the following questions:
● Is it that Azindoo loves books MORE THAN Napaga does?
Is it that Azindoo loves books MORE THAN he loves NAPAGA herself?
The reality is that the sentence under review can be an answer to any of the questions above. And that is the stench of ambiguity.
Dear reader, in spite of our preference, the choice is yours. CONJUNCTIONISM or PREPOSITIONISM, the value is the same. Permit me to conclude that I love Ghana more than any other country in the world; Africa more than any other continent on earth; and humanity more than any other race in creation.
Allah is the Best Grammarian.
Dr. Mohammed Marzuq Abubakari
Lecturer, University of Applied Management, Ghana
Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author(s) and do not neccessarily reflect those of Modern Ghana. Modern Ghana will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."