All Middle East people believed in life after death, but the Egyptians of ages past carried this idea further than any ancient civilization.

One of the four highlighted phrases is supposed to be grammatically wrong. The solution is any ancient civilization. Can you please explain to me why. I am not able to find it out.

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    Dunno what they might be thinking of. Maybe they think it should be than any other ancient civilization, to avoid recursion. But nobody's died of recursion in English for at least two centuries, so that's not really a big problem any more. Jan 23, 2015 at 19:46
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    'John Harrison is taller than any man.' 'Jupiter is bigger than any planet.' 'Osmium is denser than any metal.' There is a missing word in each case. The construction is arguably not ungrammatical, as 'Anne Harrison is taller than any man' is fine. Jan 23, 2015 at 19:49
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    @JohnLawler Sure, but that's because we must fight them over there so we don't have to fight them over here! Without centuries of recursive-fighting and negative-negating pedants Western Civilization would surely have collapsed by now. Why, death-by-recursion is at historic lows, so clearly the prescriptivism is working, right?
    – BrianH
    Jan 23, 2015 at 21:55
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    @JohnLawler - But many starving computer programmers have been rescued from their showers after following the advice on the shampoo bottle: "Shampoo, rinse, repeat." But I reiterate too much.
    – Hot Licks
    Jan 23, 2015 at 22:02
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    Am I the only one who thinks the only really jarring thing about that paragraph is Middle East people? That sounds every bit as wrong to me as Europe people. Completely ungrammatical, in fact. Who set this test, exactly? Jan 23, 2015 at 22:59

2 Answers 2


The problem some people have is with the lack of the word "other". The argument goes likes this:

If you are talking about Egypt as a country today and you want to compare it to the religious beliefs of ancient civilizations, you would say "than any ancient civilization" - because Egypt in this sentance is not an ancient civilization. And if you want to say the size of a comet in space is larger "than New York City", that's fine, because you aren't saying or implying the comet is a city in the United States.

The problem comes in when you are comparing two things that are in the same class. So if I were to say, "Usain Bolt is faster than any human!" some aggrieved soul might respond, "Are you saying black people aren't human? Racist!" (And I would have the irresistible urge to tell such a person to go and self-stimulate themselves with a cactus.) By omitting the word "other" it is said that the sentence would imply Mr Bolt isn't human, you see.

So the 'problem' is that the bit "the Egyptians of ages past carried this idea further than any ancient civilization" is said to suggest the Egyptians spoken about here aren't actually an ancient civilization.

Do I find such an argument persuasive? Frankly, I think this borderlines on imbecilic pedantry on the order of "may I go to the bathroom vs can I go to the bathroom" and for all I know is a leading cause of death among English pedants (oh how I wish it were).

However, there are some who will claim that omitting the 'other' is wrong even when it is perfectly obvious what is meant in the sentence itself. It can be objectively wrong when it leads to confusion or definite ambiguity, and where using "other" in it's rightful place would solve the issue.

So that's what they are talking about. As a matter of pragmatism, I suggest you find out who such people are and do your best to stay away from the nattering nabobs of nitpicking.

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    That may be an error of logic, but it is not an error of grammar.
    – Octopus
    Jan 23, 2015 at 23:36
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    Well, perhaps you'll judge me a pedant, but “in it's rightful place” does seem ungrammatical. ;-)
    – egreg
    Jan 24, 2015 at 0:54
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    Some minor remarks (1) it is not about comparing two things that are in the same class, but about comparing one specific thing with any member of a class to which that thing itself belongs (2) that in itself is perfectly possible, but the problem is with the strict nature of the comparison: Usain Bolt cannot possibly be faster than himself; saying "at least as fast" instead would make the problem go away, but natural language (unlike mathematics) makes non-strict comparisons rather awkward to formulate. Making a false claim is not the same as saying the individual does not belong to the class. Jan 24, 2015 at 9:23

I suspect it should be "any other ancient civilization".

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    Welcome to ELU.SE. Even though this has received upvotes (and is most likely correct), it's expressed as opinion without any corroboration or reasoning. Either would improve this answer immeasurably. [Actually, it may be measurable, if votes are a valid measure.]
    – Andrew Leach
    Jan 23, 2015 at 20:10

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