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Suppose John has 5 sweets. Is there any difference between the following two sentences?

Jack has 3 times as many sweets as John.

Jack has 3 times more sweets than John.

I prefer the first construction and would know unambiguously that Jack has 15 sweets in this case. However in the second construction I would be inclined to think that Jack has 20 sweets, since it seems to suggest 15 sweets in addition to the original 5.

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As a quick point, I've seen similar confusion for phrases like "a 300% increase". While people agree a "50% increase" means 1.5x the original, percentages over 100 sometimes vary such that "a 300% increase" could mean 3x or 4x the original value. I suspect it's due to trying to make 3x = 300% rather than 4x = 300% despite the fact that the word increase would signal "in addition to the original 1x" –  Dusty Jan 3 '11 at 22:54
@Dusty: I'd say that this confusion you mentioned comes from the fact that many people use "3x more" to mean "3x as many", with the result that nobody can trust common logic any more when interpreting similar phrases. I wish people were machines! Wait, no. Wait, yes! That would help with dating too. –  Cerberus Jan 3 '11 at 23:12
I don't believe "X times more" is ambiguous. While "10% more" means 1.1x the original, making "300% more" logically mean 4x the original, this doesn't happen with "X times more." You would never say "a tenth times more" or "half times more" or even "one time(s) more." And "one and a half times more" should be 1.5x the original. On the other hand, "three times as many more" would indeed be ambiguous. –  Peter Shor Jun 16 '11 at 23:13
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1 Answer

up vote 17 down vote accepted

This is indeed a classic. The question has been asked many times around the web, and there appear to be two schools: one that agrees with you, and one that thinks both constructions are OK and takes both to mean 15 sweets. I think those people are nuts, but hey they might be the majority. I say, why use a construction that is either illogical or ambiguous when you have a perfectly good alternative? But language isn't logical, especially not idiom, so I suppose I cannot call my argument objective. I think "3 times more" as 15 sweets total is acceptable to most people, though I'd never use it. You will even see it in newspapers. The exact same problem exists in Dutch, with the same sides to choose between.

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I think you should just use overwhelming force to take the sweets from Jack and John. Then, unambiguously, Jack has 0 times more sweets than John. As a bonus, you now have plenty of sweets of your own. –  Ben Hocking Jun 16 '11 at 12:38
@BenHocking In fact, you'd have infinitely more than either. Or is that infinity times as many? :) –  tinyd Aug 21 '12 at 13:46
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protected by Will Hunting Mar 27 '12 at 10:05

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