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I am confused between two sentences:

  1. The houses in the cities are more beautiful than that of villages.
  2. The houses in the cities are more beautiful than those in the villages.

Which one is more appropriate in usage?

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Parallelism is better in cases like this: go with "in the villages". –  user19148 Sep 17 '12 at 19:28
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3 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

As to which preposition you should use, there is no strict rule about that. However, in your example, I feel that using in the cities with of the villages creates a variation that is needless and slightly less eloquent. You are directly comparing two things (houses) in very similar situations (in cities v. villages). This kind of variation is possible, but stylistically inadvisable, so I would use the same preposition with both. If you were comparing houses in different situations, as in houses along the river are usually larger than those on mountain tops, then you have a good reason to use different prepositions, and you have no other choice anyway.


As to that (singular) v. those (plural), the pronoun should have the same number as the noun it is replacing, which could be either plural or singular, depending on what you mean. If what you mean is this:

The houses in the cities are more beautiful than *the house in the villages.

Then you would need the singular pronoun. However, the real world makes this sentence nearly impossible, so I'm quite sure you are referring to more than one house: you can't have one house in several villages (plural) in reality. As usual, context restricts your syntactic options. So you must use those here:

The houses in the cities are more beautiful than those in the villages.


As to the article (the cities and the villages), you may have a reason to use the article with one noun and no article with the other; however, I see no such reason here, and you would normally want to use articles consistently in a situation like this, so I would recommend that you use the either with both, or with neither.

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+1 nice analysis of a variety of issues within the question. –  bib Sep 17 '12 at 22:30
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The houses in the cities are more beautiful than those in the villages.

is more appropriate. The reasoning is as follows -

If a sentence is of the form X [preposition1] Z [a form of be] [adjective] than [determiner] [preposition2] Y.

and if it follows following rules, then it is always more appropriate than any other sentence that does not follow these rules.

  1. The two prepositions must be the same for consistency.
  2. If X is plural, then corresponding determiner should also be plural. In your example X (the houses) is plural but that determiner is singular whereas those is plural.

  3. It should make a proper sentence when you write X [preposition2] Y [a form of be] [adjective].

In your example X = The houses, Z = the cities, Y = the villages, preposition1 = in.

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While I understand where you're heading with 1., it is too strong of a restriction as is. Observe: The houses over the clouds are more beautiful than those under the clouds. The sandwich behind you is bigger than that inside me. Etc. –  RegDwigнt Sep 17 '12 at 18:46
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And the capitals of Europe are more interesting to visit than that of, say, Saudi Arabia. –  Cerberus Sep 17 '12 at 18:47
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@ЯegDwight Oh, that's true! I guess I will have to retract on that one. –  user13107 Sep 17 '12 at 18:49
    
@Cerberus then this too will contradict rule 2. right? All the other places are more beautiful than that one there. –  user13107 Sep 17 '12 at 18:53
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The correct answer depends on what you are trying to say. Preposition choice depends on lots of things. Pronouns must agree with their subject. Etc. Parallelism is sometimes good, sometimes not. Some sentences are grammatical but unidiomatic. There are no rules for generating English sentences that a computer can use reliably, otherwise spammers would be using them to fill your inbox with plausible junk text. –  Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Sep 17 '12 at 19:48
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The pronouns that, this, these, those must agree with the number they are meant to represent.

The houses in the cities are more beautiful than that of the villages.

This means that the cities have more than one house, but the villages, combined, share a single house which is not as beautiful as any city houses. Probably not what you wanted.

The houses in the cities are more beautiful than those in the villages.

This means that the cities and villages have multiple houses, and that city houses are more beautiful than village houses.

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Here you are using World knowledge i.e. there can't be many villages sharing a single house. I think a more general rule should avoid using 'common sense knowledge'; otherwise if someone wants to write a computer program for it, it will be difficult. –  user13107 Sep 17 '12 at 19:14
    
@user13107: I didn't really use any world knowledge: if the OP really does mean to say that all the villages have only one house, then that's fine. As Cerberus points out, that's highly unlikely though. Anyway, you need world knowledge to understand words. Language wasn't invented for computers to understand. It was invented for humans to discuss the world. –  Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Sep 17 '12 at 19:17
    
@user13107: I see no problem with "world knowledge", so long as it means anything external to the text, because that's what relevant here. –  Cerberus Sep 17 '12 at 19:22
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@Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 While I agree that language is for human usage, still, don't you think that if language appropriateness can be arrived at by general rules (not involving considerations like what's more/less likely) then that is more preferable and useful in other cases too? –  user13107 Sep 17 '12 at 19:23
    
@Cerberus So you mean in this case it is impossible to formulate a rule w/o using world knowledge? That'd be sad. I thought grammar was deterministic, at least to a v. large extent. –  user13107 Sep 17 '12 at 19:31
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