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The sentence of concern:

There is a job to be done here, collecting and collating evidence of current practice, trying out theories, developing academic tools to take charge of a field that is more unfamiliar than [what] many academics care to admit.

(Source: http://cybra.lodz.pl/Content/1081/issues/issue6_9/reviews/index.html)

It seems to me that the last part of the sentence should be "a field that is more unfamiliar than what many academics care to admit." Am I right? How come it can be omitted?

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    You're wrong although some native speakers might make the same mistake. I think you need to give your reasoning rather than just flatly state what you believe. Could you amend your question to explain why you think that? What purpose would the extra "what" serve? What would it refer to? Jul 18, 2015 at 1:31
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    I would certainly be disinclined to insert "what" there. Academics don't care to admit the degree of unfamiliarity. What does "what" have to do with that?
    – Hot Licks
    Jul 18, 2015 at 1:42
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    When in doubt, reduce it to its elements and see if it still works: "The field is less familiar than they think." Would it make better sense to say "The field is less familiar than what they think"? I think not.
    – Robusto
    Jul 18, 2015 at 1:42
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    +1. That seems to be a reasonable question, imo. "… a field that is more unfamiliar than what many academics care to admit (to?)." Hmm. Interesting. :)
    – F.E.
    Jul 18, 2015 at 2:41
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    @HotLicks I was thinking "what" refers to the degree of unfamiliarity.
    – tvk
    Jul 18, 2015 at 12:33

1 Answer 1

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The following examples may be helpful:

  1. This car is more expensive than what you drive presently.
  2. This car is more expensive than you think.

In the first example, there's a comparison of two cars, viz., "this car" vs "the one you drive" - "what" is necessary and its omission will render the sentence incorrect. "what" serves as a relative pronoun here, meaning "that which" or "the one that".

In the second example, the comparison applies to an opinion or a thought, referring to a whole clause, which can be rewritten as:
"This car is more expensive than what you think it is."

Here's the part of your sentence, which may also be re-written as: "... a field that is more unfamiliar than what many academics care to admit it is."

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  • Can I say, then, that "you think" is short for "what you think it is"? So actually it is "what... it is" that is omitted (legally)?
    – tvk
    Jul 18, 2015 at 12:39
  • Yes, such omissions are allowed.
    – Sankarane
    Jul 18, 2015 at 12:48

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