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Can you please clarify what difference in meanings exists between the sentences in the following two pairs:

    • Tom is taller than any boy present in the class.
    • Tom is taller than any other boy present in the class.
    • Tom is taller than every boy present in the class.
    • Tom is taller than every other boy present in the class.
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    First, there's no meaning difference between the (a) and (b) versions. Tom can't be taller than himself, so the truth set is identical. Second, any is a Negative Polarity Item, and that means it can only occur in a negative context, and the than clause of a comparative construction is such a context. And that means that it doesn't really mean every, outside such a context. For instance, She wonders whether Tom likes everybody in the class does not mean the same thing as She wonders whether Tom likes anybody in the class Dec 24, 2013 at 21:15
  • For "negative polarity", search here. Dec 24, 2013 at 21:16
  • It seems that this question contains two. I have asked first part here, english.stackexchange.com/questions/184322
    – Val
    Jul 10, 2014 at 16:37

1 Answer 1

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The difference is that, assuming that Tom is in the class at the time, the second in each example pair is grammatically and logically correct, while the first is not. Because Tom cannot be taller than himself, saying he's taller than any boy there is nonsensical. More obviously, "New York is bigger than any city in America". Nonsense, unless the New York referred to is not in America. This, BTW, is one of the most common mistakes made in speech and in writing. "He's smarter than anyone!", etc.

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  • Do you mean that "He's smarter than anyone!" is wrong? What's the right way of saying it?
    – user1425
    Sep 17, 2014 at 9:28
  • A mathematician would say that a set is a subset of itself. So it depends. Nice point, though. Feb 18, 2015 at 15:42

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