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Today, despite widely available technology such as high-resolution scanners and printers, counterfeiting is more difficult than it was at the time of the Civil War, when it was estimated that one-third of all currency in circulation was counterfeit.

This is from a GMAT question. The book I have says that "it was" can not be omitted, since you can not compare "counterfeiting" with a time description.

In regular speech, one can omit the "it was". What I want to know is whether it is possible to omit according to "official" grammatical rules.

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    The interpolated contrafactual clause despite ... printers gets in the way of the subject, which is a temporal word and works just fine with another temporal phrase after than. I.e, Today counterfeiting is more difficult than at the time of the Civil War is perfectly fine, because Today/Now it's harder than then/at that time is OK. But the intervening clause interferes with the parallelism, and is clumsy. Certainly it's less clumsy with it was retained instead of deleted. Deletions always lose some information, and sometimes you'd rather have it around. – John Lawler Aug 14 '15 at 17:37
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If what you want to compare the time of the Civil War to today, just say so, and you'll avoid the issue:

Despite widely available technology such as high-resolution scanners and printers, counterfeiting is more difficult today than at the time of the Civil War, when it was estimated that one-third of all currency in circulation was counterfeit.

  • Rewriting the sentence is not important, what I want to know is whether there even exists such a rule concerning the usage of "than" or comparisons in general. – Er Mao Aug 14 '15 at 17:34
  • Your original question referred to casual speech, which is often sloppy. Careful writing eliminates the sloppiness. You're comparing one era to another, so the inclusion of now or today sharpens the writing considerably. It's not so much a rule as a guideline of good writing. – Steven Littman Aug 14 '15 at 17:36
  • @StoneyB: You're right; I didn't notice the first "today," so I've updated my answer accordingly. Thus, the original sentence in the question was really wrong in the first place, but positioning "today" right before "than" makes the comparison clearer. – Steven Littman Aug 14 '15 at 18:01

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