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As has been shown in another question, in comparisons with than both the accusative and the nominative are possible and grammatical:

  • He loves you more than I.
  • He loves you more than me.

However, when we use but only the accusative seems possible:

Nobody will help you but me. [Not I]

What I think is that the nominative case could be justified as well.

Nobody will help you but I [will].

Why I am wrong? Any other examples and references will be appreciated.

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Actually your first example is poorly chosen — you have picked a transitive verb which introduces additional ambiguity. Better pick an intransitive verb so as not to distract from the issue at hand (which has nothing to do with than anyway). – RegDwigнt Jul 1 '12 at 15:00
You're on the wrong track. It's not "Comparisons with than". It's a question of what's being compared. They have to be the same kind of structure, or else they have to be adjusted. As RegDwight says, don't compare verbs and nouns, and I would add don't use short sentences with deleted material; it always adds ambiguity and makes it harder to understand. And it almost always leads to bad English, like trying to pronounce each letter out loud. Make it right before you make it fast, as Kernighan and Plauger suggest. – John Lawler Jul 1 '12 at 15:31
@RegDwightBBB I didn't understand.What ambiguity does the transitive verb introduces here or if you can provide some examples. – Saurabh Jul 1 '12 at 15:32
He loves you more than I (more than I love you); He loves you more than me (more than he loves me); He loves you more than me (more than I love you). The second example is ambiguous. [Sorry, can't do much about formatting in a comment] – Andrew Leach Jul 1 '12 at 17:55

3 Answers 3

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Nobody will help you but me and Nobody will help you, but I will are different constructions. In the first, but is a preposition and prepositions generally require the accusative form of the pronoun. In the second, but is a coordinating conjunction linking two clauses, of which the second has I as its subject.

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What’s the difference between a construct and a construction? Don’t you just mean construct? – tchrist Jul 1 '12 at 19:17
@tchrist: By construction I mean a grammatical construction, that is, the way in which units of grammar are assembled. I believe ‘construct’ has a rather more specialised use in linguistics in distinguishing a phrase from a compound. But I can’t say I’m familiar with it. – Barrie England Jul 1 '12 at 19:32

"Than" works as a subordinating conjunction.  In "He loves you more than I love you", "than I love you" modifies "more", which in turn modifies "loves".  In the elliptical form, the missing elements (which include the modified verb) are provided by the matrix clause.

"But" works as a coordinating conjunction.  In "Nobody [else] will help you, but I will help you", there is no subordinate clause.  Without that relationship, I see nothing to provide an implied verb to the second clause.

The elliptical version which includes the auxiliary works.  That's enough to establish that the independent clauses have parallel structure, and the rest of the clause becomes obvious.  The elliptical version without an auxiliary leaves us with a subject in search of a verb.  We can't assume the verb that the clause modifies simply because the clause modifies nothing.

Both "than" and "but" also work as prepositions.  In that case, the object of the preposition takes an objective form.

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My dictionary hardly helps. It says that 'than' can act as a preposition, so that the word to which it refers is an object of the sentence, hence an object pronoun (e.g. 'me') is OK. However, 'than' is not a preposition but a logical connector, a word of comparison.

I wonder if the tendency to use object pronouns at the end of sentences is due to the influence of French on English.

I think completing the sentence in one's head is the only way to get the right pronoun and avoid confusion. Even then, we do not always have a choice of pronoun; e.g. 'I want it more than you' might mean 'I want it more than you do' or 'I want it more than I want you'. Hopefully, the context makes it clear!

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What makes you say that than is not a preposition? ‘Logical connector’ and ‘word of comparison’ are not word classes I've ever heard of, and I doubt they make much sense as word classes, since they are descriptions of function, rather than syntactic properties. Than behaves exactly like a preposition in every way it is used syntactically, so saying that it is not based on functional arguments makes little sense. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jan 3 at 11:29

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