The following is a part of the section 15.70 of A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language (Longman).

Rachel is no more courageous than Saul(is).

The sentence implies that both Rachel and Saul are not courageous( 'Rachel is not courageous, any more than Saul is courageous').

and later

They are no more scholars than my baby (is). ['They are no more scholarly...']

The rhetorical effect of the construction is not so much to make a comparison as to intensify the negation.

Since it is absurd to say "my baby is scholarly", I can notice that this sentence has a rhetorical meaning. But, in the first example there is no suggestion that Saul is not courageous. Does the no more ... than construction automatically suggest that the proposition of subordinate clause is false? Or, does it depend on the context (so, it only has the literal meaning if it is taken out of the context suggesting that the proposition of subordinate clause is false)?

  • 1
    The first sentence might imply that Saul is not at all courageous, but it leaves open the possibility that Saul is somewhat courageous (at least as much as Rachel.) As for the baby example—you're right. It is undeniably idiomatic, rhetorical, and meant as an insult. Commented Aug 1, 2015 at 8:16

3 Answers 3


I would say that the example was taken from its context (a novel, perhaps, or maybe the Bible) but the inference is that Saul is not courageous and, by analogy, neither is the woman.

  • It could be that Rachel was just praised for some courageous act in which Saul participated, and the speaker feels that Saul deserves equivalent praise. (Context, context, context!)
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Aug 1, 2015 at 11:39
  • It would have been "not more", not "no more" in that case. Commented Aug 1, 2015 at 12:25
  • I can see no reason to believe that.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Aug 1, 2015 at 12:47
  • I can live with that. Commented Aug 1, 2015 at 14:36

Rachel is no more courageous than Saul (is).

This simply means, "Rachel is less courageous than Saul (is)."*

From that we can infer that Saul is not utterly and completely courageous because, if he were, there would be little shame in being less courageous. Also we would not have needed Saul to be mentioned at all, we could simply have said, "Rachel is not 100% courageous".

Therefore, in order to give the sentence meaning, we assume that Saul has very little courage and Rachel, even less.

It's not a very good example and to be certain what it meant we would have to know more about Saul.

  • Strictly speaking, in logical terms, it means "Rachel is less or equally courageous ...", but everyday language doesn't usually split hairs that finely.

In his book Studies in English ([1]) Stoffel says , in a sentence like "Rachel is no more courageous than Saul(is)",

we have the full-stressed word-negative no prefixed to a comparative, and here it has the force of changing the sense of more than into that of as little as.

His explanation is

the word-negative no in this case acts both on the notion of superiority expressed by more, and on the meaning of the notion of which superiority is predicated.

The effects are

  • superiority is changed into equality

If I say of a man that he is not my superior, I imply that I am his equal.

  • courageousness is changed into uncourageousness

the full-stressed word-negative not in "it is not fair", expresses, not negation, but opposition, so that "it is not fair" is equivalent to "it is unfair".

In this way the predicate in our sentence becomes the expression of equality of uncourageousness; that is, no more courageous than comes to mean as litte courageous as

The following is the Jespersen's remark ([2]) about Stoffel's distinction based on the observation above between no more than and not more than.

some of his distinctions seem too subtle and are rarely observed even by accurate writers.

[1] Studies in English, C. Stoffel (1894)


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