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Which sounds better:

When Canadians do initiate conversations, they tend to be more reserved than Americans do.

When Canadians do initiate conversations, they tend to be more reserved than do Americans.

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4  
The second do, wherever you put it, should be are. And why not leave it out altogether? –  StoneyB Jan 28 '13 at 21:07
    
OK well use a different example then. "The report demonstrated that Canadians are more likely to be denied entry than are Americans." You wouldn't want to elide the "are" in this case, because "The report demonstrated that Canadians are more likely to be denied entry than Americans" sounds awkward. So which sounds better? "The report demonstrated that Canadians are more likely to be denied entry than are Americans" or "The report demonstrated that Canadians are more likely to be denied entry than Americans are"? –  Peter Salazar Jan 28 '13 at 21:16
2  
No, either of the examples is fine, and so is leaving it out altogether. –  Robusto Jan 28 '13 at 21:18
    
I don't see any reason why it has to be are rather than do. These aren't easy constructions for me to find examples of, but here are a couple of instances of "tend to be slower than do". They look fine to me, and the same text replacing do with are finds no hits. –  FumbleFingers Jan 28 '13 at 21:51
1  
"I am reserved, and so are you." But "I tend to be reserved, and so do you." With the OP's sentence structure, I think it should be than do Americans, but than Americans are or than Americans do both work. –  Peter Shor Jan 28 '13 at 22:04

3 Answers 3

up vote 2 down vote accepted

Okay. I'm going to remove the first do in each statement, and come back to it later.

When Canadians initiate conversations, they tend to be more reserved than Americans do.

When Canadians initiate conversations, they tend to be more reserved than do Americans.

Both read fine, but which is stronger? There's an interesting thing happening in the second, which we can see if we rewrite them to not use do-support:

When Canadians initiate conversations, they tend to be more reserved than Americans tend to be.

We can't actually do that with the other one and come out with the same meaning, the closest I can get is:

When Canadians initiate conversations, they tend to be more reserved than is the tendency of Americans.

Which is more than a simple, direct rewrite. Indeed, it's quite different, indeed.

The interesting thing about the second of the first sentences, is that we have the verb before the subject. Much of the time, this plain won't work in English. Some of the time, it'll be understandable, but sound pretty weird, or match some archaic constructions.

Here though it's a mild, but very pleasing example of hyperbaton, and it leads to the sentence ending on one of the groups we are interested in, rather than the relatively weak do. (The reason it's mild, is that verb-subject is nowhere near as rare with do, be, have and a few other verbs as it is with most, so it's arguably not really hyperbaton at all).

Now, let's consider StoneyB's suggestion from the comments, but again with my edit:

When Canadians initiate conversations, they tend to be more reserved than Americans are.

When Canadians initiate conversations, they tend to be more reserved than are Americans.

Okay, here rather than using do to match the earlier verb phrase, we use are to match the to be in that earlier phrase, and hence evoke it.

And it pretty much matches, as far as that mild hyperbaton goes. Again, I prefer the second.

I still prefer the do form to the are form. Partly, at least, this is because it could be seen as matching how reserved Canadians tend to be in a given situations, with how reserved Americans are generally. It's one of those mild ambiguities where I wouldn't actually misinterpret it that way, but it does weaken the impact. (We could also leave out the are and have "...tend to be more reserved than Americans", but that has the same issue even more strongly).

Okay, now to go back to having the first do in there:

When Canadians do initiate conversations, they tend to be more reserved than do Americans.

When I first read the two sentences, they seemed wrong to me, and the reason was that I was matching the do at the end to the do near the beginning. Now, that was a misreading, and when I read them again more carefully, I realised the meaning. Still, even now it reads to me like that repetition—even of such a weak word as do can be—is deliberate and meaningful, and I trip over it mentally. (Incidentally, I found that effect even worse with the other sentence suggested).

Now, presumably that do is there for a good reason. At a guess, an earlier statement is saying that Canadians don't often initiate conversations, with this sentence addressing the exception to that. It's a good reason to have do in there; the last thing you want is the reader to react with "why are you talking about Canadians initiating conversations, you just said they don't!"

But I do still find that repetition to be a bit of a burr.

So, if you can remove that do without causing problems in the wider context, I would recommend:

When Canadians initiate conversations, they tend to be more reserved than do Americans.

If however that seems contradictory in the context, I'd recommend:

When Canadians do initiate conversations, they tend to be more reserved than are Americans.

Again though, this is offering an opinion of effect, which is subjective.

The more general answer to the more general question, "Should one invert syntax for the verb “do” in a comparison?" is that you can, but you don't have to, and while I may favour it in this case, others may disagree, and I may disagree myself with another example. "So baby talk to me, Like do lovers" just wouldn't work as well as "So baby talk to me, Like lovers do".

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+1 for making the important point (which I failed to explicitly identify) that the sentence is stronger/better/clearer if it ends with the "operative" word Americans, rather than just a grammatically-prompted auxiliary like do or are. Don't take this the wrong way, but I'm not going to delete my answer as promised, because I think given the length of this one, there should be a shorter alternative (if only as a TL;DR! :) –  FumbleFingers Jan 29 '13 at 0:09
    
@FumbleFingers No wrong way to take it, you answered first and you answered well, so you should only delete it if you think you're wrong (in which case I'd disagree with your thinking that). –  Jon Hanna Jan 29 '13 at 0:11
    
@FumbleFingers I do think that the fact that verb-then-subject is unusual in English is another reason for the strength. It's not quite hyperbaton, but it's something akin to it. –  Jon Hanna Jan 29 '13 at 0:12
    
If by that you mean than do Americans is inherently "stronger" than than Americans do even disregarding whether the sentence actually ends there, then yes - I agree. On the other point, I don't really think I answered that well, since I failed to adequately justify my preference (but you've now picked out at least two reasons). Anyway, I have the sneaking suspicion that if John Lawler were to turn his attention to this one, my contribution would fade into insignificance! –  FumbleFingers Jan 29 '13 at 0:19

I am hesitant to write this because I am new here and others on this site are far far more knowledgeable than I. That said, and assuming the first do is for contrasting with a previous statement, I would go for

When Canadians do initiate conversations, they tend to be more reserved than Americans.

The meaning here is that when Canadians, who do not often do so, initiate a conversation they are more reserved than Americans in the same situation. I do not understand the need for a final verb. Like the Canadians, the fictitious Americans in question are also initiating a conversation. They are not doing and they aren't being anything. Both the final are and the final do seem unnecessary.

Granted that this form makes the sentence slightly more ambiguous. It could now be taken to mean that Canadians, when initiating a conversation, are more reserved than Americans in general as opposed to Americans initiating a conversation. Nevertheless, I feel that this form is clearer, easier to read and more natural.

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I'll delete this if anyone comes up with a better answer, but I think both versions are grammatically fine. You could replace do with are, but I see no reason that should be required.

As to which sounds better?, I prefer the second. It sounds more measured and formal, which is in keeping with the rest of the sentence. Sticking the auxiliary verb do (or are) at the end sounds more like a spoken form where the speaker hadn't quite thought out how he was going to finish until he got there (and arguably would have been better off not saying the last word at all).


EDIT: As has been pointed out, you don't need to use "do" at all. It would be pedantic to suppose the sentence was defective because of any potential ambiguity (i.e. - that Canadians when they happen to be initiating conversations are more reserved than Americans in general). But that's not what the question asks.

I also acknowledge Jon's point that the reason OP's second version is "better" is that Americans is the operative word in the clause, and as such has more impact in the final position.

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Well, I had the same conclusion. I've a theory as to why, and also why StoneyB preferred are over do, so I just wrote that up a bit. +1 from me on yours, still. –  Jon Hanna Jan 28 '13 at 23:58

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