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Consider the sentence "I can run faster than 15 miles per hour." Its meaning is clear and to my eyes obviously grammatically correct. Now let me present some variations that have given me trouble for a long time.

  • I am faster than 15 miles per hour. – To me this is clearly incorrect. Directly comparing me to a speed doesn't seem right. We need to compare my speed to a speed, or me to another person.

  • I can run faster than him. – Compared to the base sentence, there is a distinct shift in meaning of the comparison. While before I named a speed faster than which I can run, now I am naming a person. It doesn't seem quite right. I realize the parts of speech can change, but my initial objection is that "him" is not a speed.

  • I can run faster than he. – This seems most correct to me, but still somehow feels objectionable. Is this in fact the correct way to say it? And if so, is it proper as is or need I say "... faster than he can" or even "... faster than he can run?"

  • I am faster than him. – With "am" instead of "can run" it now seems slightly more correct. But is it?

  • I am faster than he. – I'm in doubt here. It doesn't seem wrong to me to say, "I am faster than he is" or even "I am faster than he is fast." (Though I suppose that is a given since I could hardly properly compare to some other category as in "I am faster than he is smart.")

  • My speed is faster than his. – Hmm. This seems more proper as "my speed is greater than his."

So which of these constructions is correct and which is incorrect? Is there a general rule that I can follow?

UPDATE

The scholarly article Syntactic isomorphism and non-isomorphism under ellipsis may be of great interest to some readers!

Once we accept that the elided constituent and its antecedent can differ in form, it becomes reasonable to ask how large this difference can be. The answer in Rooth (1992), Fiengo and May (1994), Chung et al. (1995) and subsequent work is that the wiggle room is actually quite small: the elided constituent and its antecedent are allowed to differ only in the realization of inflectional morphology. Other than that, both constituents have to be syntactically and lexically isomorphic.

8
  • See this Grammar Girl column on than I versus than me.
    – JLG
    Feb 11, 2013 at 5:58
  • In this case the question after correctness does not make sense as both possibilites are possible.
    – rogermue
    Jul 19, 2015 at 3:20
  • @rogermue I disagree with your logic. A question doesn't automatically become nonsense just because the answer is "both." (Or, more accurately, one in formal writing and one for other situations.)
    – ErikE
    Jul 20, 2015 at 5:40
  • Note that you should probably distinguish I/me from other forms, as it the only case when the accusative dominates the nominative in American Google Books Corpus, by the method from nohat's question.
    – se0808
    Jan 16, 2016 at 15:33
  • 2
    Also there is a nice answer on ELL: ell.stackexchange.com/a/60289/28962. In short, she is taller than he (is), so I like her more than (I like) him.
    – se0808
    Jan 16, 2016 at 15:45

14 Answers 14

51

You find both accusative pronouns (me/him/her/them) and nominative pronouns (I/he/she/they) in this syntactic position in standard English. The forms with the nominal genitive pronouns (mine/yours/hers etc.) are a red herring because they stand for something possessed rather than the person themself.

The traditional rule for comparison with a person is that you must use nominative. However, according to my research, accusative is more common.

I searched the Corpus of Contemporary American English for this syntactic structure, followed by a comma or a period to ensure we are not looking for cases like faster than he is, with a verb following the pronoun, in which case nominative is obligatory.

There were 1046 results for the accusative pronouns and 450 for nominative pronouns, more than 2 to 1 in favor of accusative pronouns—the “traditionally wrong” form. Both forms are standard, so my advice to a writer choosing between these forms is to consider that the “traditionally correct” form is unimpeachably correct but a bit formal. Choose the form that best matches tone and formality level of your writing.

For the curious, the queries looked like this:

[jjr*] than me|him|her|us|them .|,
[jjr*] than I|he|she|we|they .|,

where[jjr*] means any comparative adjective.

Update 2011-05-23

Using the new Google Book Corpus search, I was able to construct a Google ngrams-like graph comparing these usages over time, using these two queries: accusative, nominative:

Google ngram comparing case after than

As you can see, until the late 1980s, the formal usage was more common than the informal usage. Since then, however, accusative has very rapidly eclipsed nominative, even in this corpus, which represents professionally published works.

18
  • 12
    I don't understand why the advice given in a forum about correct use of language encourages informal and incorrect grammar.
    – Tim
    Sep 28, 2010 at 1:28
  • 24
    @Tim: Depending on the situation, the informal usage can be the correct one to use. (nohat said "Choose the form that best matches tone and formality level of your writing.") Besides, both forms are (or ought to be) correct grammar, since grammar is a set of rules drawn from actual usage. (Though I hold that simplistic grammars that don't fully account for usage do have some uses.) Sep 28, 2010 at 4:19
  • 14
    @ShreevatsaR - So with that logic since I hear people say "axe" rather than "ask" and "irregardless" and "supposably" then I should just adopt the use that the masses use? I'd rather not - I prefer to continue using proper English.
    – Tim
    Sep 28, 2010 at 13:56
  • 25
    @Tim I said both acc. and nom. are common, acc. is more common, both are standard, nom. is “traditionally correct”, nom. is more formal, and to choose the form that best matches the tone and formality level of the writing. What exactly is the problem with my answer? That I didn’t come down with a hard line against acc.?
    – nohat
    Sep 28, 2010 at 15:02
  • 21
    Also, what’s wrong with encouraging informality? To someone learning how to speak English, knowing when and how to speak informally is just as important as knowing all the rules of formal style. Don’t confuse informal style with ungrammaticality.
    – nohat
    Sep 28, 2010 at 19:08
22

Ah, you've stumbled onto a controversy even the experts haven't completely settled. It all depends on whether you think than is a conjunction or a preposition.

First, remember that "I" is always a subject, and "me" is always an object.

If than is a conjunction, then it's joining two complete sentences, and the "am" that you mention is the implied predicate of that sentence. In that case, "I" is the correct subject. (Except where's the comma you normally would use before an and that joins two sentences?)

If than is a preposition, then there is a prepositional phrase, which needs an object, not a subject. In that case, "me" is the correct pronoun.

Consensus seems to be on the side of the "conjunctionists" -- even if common usage isn't. I always use than like a conjunction in writing, but in speaking, I usually find myself using it as a preposition because it feels more natural somehow. So I guess I have a foot in both camps. ;)

There's an excellent discussion of this at Grammar Girl's blog.

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  • 1
    I wouldn't say that consensus is on the side of the "conjunctionists", particularly not these days. "Than I" is often stilted and awkward, let alone preferred.
    – Kosmonaut
    Mar 20, 2011 at 16:51
  • 7
    The cognitive dissonance you are experiencing is where the real grammar of English you learned by listening to others speak conflicts with the artifice of "grammar" you learn in school. In point of fact, accusative pronouns are the default in English, and nominative pronouns can only be used in certain cases, which in ordinary spoken English is ONLY in the nonconjoined subject position. Accusative is used in all other syntactic positions. "Formal" written English has extended the reach of nominative to conjoined subject and linking-verb predicate, and that's where the "disputes" lie.
    – nohat
    Mar 20, 2011 at 19:48
  • 1
    @nohat Thanks for the education! It's fascinating stuff for a grammar nerd -- or maybe I should say aspiring grammar nerd. :)
    – Kelly Hess
    Mar 20, 2011 at 20:11
  • 2
    @Jim language is "an empirical phenomenon" as much as biodiversity is, and the evidence in favor of "as smart as me" being grammatical is as massive and conclusive as that for evolution.
    – nohat
    Mar 20, 2011 at 22:23
  • 3
    My point is that serious scholars of linguistics (who I assume are the people you would designate "experts") really aren't trying to "settle" this matter: they generally don't care very much about this "issue", which is essentially the invention of prescriptive grammarians/style guide writers. Incidentally, some subquestions of this issue (e.g. "are coordinated elements always of the same case?"; "is Case actually involved in this phenomenon?" etc), like the theory of evolution, are also in principle matters of scientific fact, not belief/opinion. Mar 21, 2011 at 6:09
15

The prescriptivist answer is that ‘He is taller than I’ is correct. The justification often given is that the sentence is an ellipsis of ‘He is taller than I am’, but this appears to be an ex post facto justification of a somewhat arbitrary preference: modern linguistic analysis shows this kind of verbal ellipsis is impossible in other similar contexts and is therefore unlikely to be occurring here. To quote Alan Munn, a linguist who does research in syntax, ‘There's no syntactic evidence that the position after “than” here is a subject, so the accusative is the only linguistically sane form’. If I remember correctly, data on real spoken English show that me is considerably more common than I in this kind of construction.

In formal writing and speaking it is probably safest to use the prescriptively correct ‘than I’; in any other context ‘than me’ is not just acceptable, but normal usage for a majority of speakers. Indeed, in many contexts the use of ‘than I’ will strike a great many people as unduly formal, the sign of someone who ‘talks like a book’.

1
12

"I can run faster than he." is technically correct, because it is short for "I can run faster than he can run." In fact, you are comparing your speed to his speed, not to him personally. This shortening of the sentence is called an elliptical construction, because the remainder of the "he" clause is understood. The tendency is to treat "than" as a preposition. (See also Safire on this point.)

3
  • So what about "I am faster than he"?
    – ErikE
    Sep 26, 2010 at 5:57
  • 2
    @Emtucifor: I think the traditional view is that "he" is correct, because "I am faster than he is fast."
    – moioci
    Sep 26, 2010 at 22:59
  • 3
    I'm not sure why I'm experiencing hesitation. What you're telling me is what I always leaned toward. Yet if the "is fast" is always implied, where does one put the is fast in a sentence like "Who am I faster than?" It sure seems like we can compare one person directly to another. Sure, we can reorder the words and say "I am faster than who is fast?" but that's awkward and unnecessary. I do see that the word who itself might suggest he since whom would suggest him but that isn't the point here. Every comparison I can think of using "to be" seems okay with the predicate pronoun.
    – ErikE
    Sep 27, 2010 at 5:26
10

Both are possible English sentences. In the first, than is a preposition, and pronouns that follow prepositions are normally in the objective case. In the second, than is a conjunction and joins the clause He is wiser to the clause I (am).

The first construction is less formal than the second, and is probably used by native speakers more often. The second might be used by speakers afraid that if they used me they would be making a mistake, but, in almost all contexts, they would not be.

2
  • @ Barrie England It means both are correct?
    – Sudhir
    Nov 8, 2012 at 7:40
  • I try to avoid the word 'correct', because it gives an inadequte description. I would just say that both might be found in Standard English. As a fairly well educated speaker of British English, I would normally say . . . than me. Nov 8, 2012 at 8:22
4

Both are correct and standard. "He is taller than me" and "He is taller than I am". We sometimes forget that the "be" verb gets dropped in the latter. However, some would argue that the latter is more correct. Some would say that it should be used in more formal situations. But the truth is that both are okay.

1
  • 1
    He is taller than me. -> me is Object. He is taller than I am ->**I am** it is kind of subordinate clause. So there are not exactly the same. Feb 11, 2013 at 7:40
1

Both are grammatical!

To me, using "I" always gives an impression that more words are following.

She is older than I am.

She is older than I thought.

While using "me" will just finish the sentence.

She is older than me.

1

The grade school grammar argument is problematic. Words can take different types of complement. There's little reason to suppose that just because "as" can take a clause as its complement, every complement must then be a clause.

Really this is a case for just saying what comes naturally to you and devoting your brain (and education budget) to other things...

1
  1. I am faster than him.

This is correct, and has been since 1066 and the French Norman conquest of England.

OED: Disjunctive (or Conjunctive):

3.b. In French Grammar, sometimes applied to the indirect nominative (and objective) case of the personal pronouns (moi, toi, lui, eux) as distinguished from the direct nominative (je, tu, il, ils), called in this nomenclature conjunctive.

If translating from the French, moi, toi, lui, eux will be me, you, him, them.

To add, this use of the form is commonly an alternative to the reflexive, which serves similar function:

He is taller than myself. (Although it may not work in all circumstances.)

Note also such phrases as "Dear me!" "Silly me, I forgot to lock the door" in which the phrase is in direct apposition to "I" and is thus in the same grammatical case.

(See also Wikipedia's Disjunctive pronoun)

Moving on:

  1. I am faster than he.

This is now archaic, although prior to 1066, in Old (and also e-Middle) English it was the only possible form. In other Germanic languages "he" remains the only possible form. After that date a slow transition was started to the current form (1.)

The transition is not yet complete and has been hindered by those who do not understand the origins of this form and attempt to force an unnatural grammar on an English that has been influenced by French.

Consider a common conversation:

A: Who wants an ice cream? B: "Me!" This is what everyone would say and expect.

A: Who wants an ice cream? C: "I!" - Nobody says this.

A: Who wants an ice cream? D: "Myself!" This is possible

As a final note:

  1. I am faster than him. - consider "than" to be a preposition and the whole an adverbial.
  1. I am faster than he is. - consider "than" to be a conjunction.
0

By parallelism, there's an implied verb at the end of the sentence: "She is older than I am." So "She's older than I" is the generally accepted version (and the version that sounds correct to me.)

But you could make an almost-as-convincing argument that "me" is the object of the prepositional phrase "than me"... so this one could go either way.

My vote is with "I", though.

3
  • "almost" as convincing-- this implies there's something more convincing about the first argument, then? I'm intrigued to know what that is. May 24, 2011 at 5:27
  • @Neil - Parallelism, of course! What could possibly be more convincing? You're right, though - "me" sounds wrong to me in this context, but I don't have actual logic to explain why... so I slipped in a weasel phrase. You caught me.
    – MT_Head
    May 24, 2011 at 5:30
  • In any case, this was covered much more thoroughly in the duplicate question.
    – MT_Head
    May 24, 2011 at 5:33
0

I can run faster than him
I can run faster than he can
I can run faster than can he

I personally find myself "natural" to use any of them maybe because that was what I learnt in my English class. But for long sentences with similar comparisons (I can not think up an example right now), a solution like the first sentence always eases my mind when I read it (although it is grammatically incorrect). Perhaps because it is shorter while I can still understand what the writer wants to say.

0

“Me and her are married.”

Schoolmarms object that this is ungrammatical, but this kind of thing is said all the time by native speakers of English. Now, whatever usage native speakers make of a language (sufficiently often, of course, not just as an occasional joke), is BY DEFINITION correct! So, let’s not let the tail wag the dog. It is up to us to explain the acceptability of the sentence, not to ‘explain away’ the sentence by simply declaring it to be ungrammatical (or by declaring the proposed alternative as being “pretentious sounding, but correct”).

There's nothing wrong with being a pedant, but there is something wrong about being wrong. The two nominative expressions "Me and her" and "She and I" are NOT synonymous. They are both grammatical, but have not only different meanings, but also, of course, different registers. The former, being an abbreviation for "The party consisting of me and her" has lower register, simply by virtue of being an abbreviation. The notion of “party” implies “togetherness”, and “togetherness” is an essential part of what is being conveyed. (If abbreviations are not recognized and taken into account as such, an endless train of anomalies and paradoxes results.) Perhaps consideration of an old joke will make it even clearer. old joke: A. "She and I are married." B: "To each other?"; but "Me and her are married." leaves no invitation for such a rejoinder.

To give another example:

The two sentences, "Me and her are going shopping this afternoon." and "She and I are going shopping this afternoon." are not synonymous. The former clearly implies that we are going together, but the latter leaves open the possibility that separate trips are intended.

“Me and her are going shopping this afternoon.” is simply and abbreviation for, “The members of the party consisting of me and her want to go shopping together this afternoon.” - perfectly grammatical, but who wants to say such a mouthful when, “Me and her are going shopping this afternoon.” is a perfectly understandable abbreviation of it?

This also shows that the shoot-from-the-hip advice of omitting part of a sentence in order to analyze what is left is just more schoolmarm mush-headed thinking, much like killing the golden goose in order to find out what makes it work. We don’t say, “Me am going shopping this afternoon.” because there is no question of togetherness. But we do say, “It’s me.” in answer to the query, “Who is it?” because the person asking has no way of knowing how many people are involved, and so “party” mode is defaulted to (much like a set of exactly one element in Mathematics - called a ‘singleton’). Of course, if one is making an entrance, “I”, followed by an exalted name, is appropriate: “It is I, Don Quixote!” – or if the passage is part of an exalted speech, the nominative is appropriate, as in the Shakespearian line, ““We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;”.

Captions, such as for photographs, are similarly explained. Everyone recognizes in their gut that “Susan and me” is correct and appropriate as a caption (being an abbreviation for, “Hey, everybody, this is a photograph of (the party consisting of) Susan and me!”), and that “Susan and I” feels like fingernails scratching a blackboard, because for such a photograph the “togetherness” motif is primary, not secondary as in a sentence such as “Me and her are married.” - and the construction “Susan and I” negates that togetherness, just as a random photograph in the wild might happen to capture both a bear and a squirrel at the same time.

Note that telling a complete item from an abbreviated item can require context, and the two might not be synonymous. For example ‘gas’ as a complete item refers to natural gas, but as an abbreviation refers to gasoline. Another case requiring context is the expression “I could care less.”. As a complete item it means that the speaker does care to some degree, but as an abbreviation it means “If you think I could care less, you are mistaken.” – which is a much more powerful put-down than “I couldn’t care less.” – similar to the difference between “Hell, no.” and merely “No.”

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  • There's the conflicting argument that a large section of Anglophones consider 'Me and her are going to ...' poor English. Svartvik and Greenbaum carried out studies on acceptability in English, and the results were so varied that they decided the only viable model was a Likert-like scale of acceptability. So 'fully acceptable' and 'totally unacceptable' (dog / tail) are not the only categories into which usages are classified by pros. Dec 17, 2021 at 20:01
-2

Consider the sentence "I can run faster than 15 miles per hour." Its meaning is clear and to my eyes obviously grammatically correct.

Sorry, but that is, as you say, "obviously" only common. Whether it is not only common but also gramamatically correct is for discussion.

I Semantics is one of several fields in grammar, and "fast speed" is, if taken literally, semantically incorrect construction. "Fast" means "having high speed". Thus, "fast speed" literally means "speed having high speed", rendering the "fast speed" a circular-referential adjective-object syntagma (while every adjective must give extra information about its object!). Therefore, "fast speed" is semantically incorrect construction.

And, yes, it is really the nonsensical "fast speed" you spoke of in you first sentence "I can run faster than 15 miles per hour", because that sentence, without its omitions, is this: I can run faster than the speed of 15 MPH is fast.

II Even more, not only does there exist no such thing as a fast speed (there's high speed), but you're making a comparison between running and being. Look at the extended sentence above. In it, you RUN (fast), but the referenced speed IS (fast). You compare the manner (A) of action (B) with the quality (C) of object (D). A=fast, B=run, C=fast, D=speed. You may think A and C are one and the same word, but you'd be wrong. You were forced to compare an adverb (fast) with an adjective (fast), which here didn't seem all that problematic, but that's only because the particular adverb fast and the adjective fast accidentally happen to be morphologically identical in English. In English, the adverb is not "fastly"; it remains without the suffix "-ly" (the English rule of adverb creation took the back seat here to the historical convention). Nonetheless, A is an adverb. You would easily see that A and C are, actually, two different words if you were a bad runner: "I run more slowly than the 15 MPH is slow". See? Slow-ly and slow. Two different things. One for an action, one for an object. Apples and oranges. DO something more slow-ly than SOMETHING is slow? Say what now? Those are two sets of incomparable things [(action, adverb), (object, adjective)], just as there are two incomparable sets of things in "do something faster than something is fast". Or more specifically, in "run faster than the speed of 15 miles per hour is fast". Or to be totally specific, in "I can run faster than 15 miles per hour."

Therefore, your first sentence is not "obviosly" grammatically correct.

But I do accept that it may be agreed by the English linguists that such a sentence be grammatically acceptable. Many incongruent things are acceptable in all natural languages, as is the case with the adverb "fast" lacking the suffix "-ly". A group of authoritative people gets together, compares their notes on the usage of English in the real world and decides: "It's OK, never mind that it breaks some rules or even logic. Let it be." I don't have a problem with that. However, in your discussion, you've tried to use the questionably acceptable exception to rules and logic, as a reference point for your further reasoning. To that, I do object.

5
  • Re I - if fast is having (or being able of) high speed, then faster is having (or being able of) higher speed; parsed as such you avoid circular reference.
    – Unreason
    Aug 4, 2011 at 12:16
  • 1
    Re II - you yourself expand “... than the speed of 15 mph“ to “... than the speed of 15 mph is fast “ though you say there is no such thing as fast speed. Furthermore, running and being is not compared here; the speed of running is compared to a given constant speed. That works.
    – Unreason
    Aug 4, 2011 at 12:55
  • The phrase "faster than he" expands to "... he is (fast)", because "he", alone, is not the quantity that is being compared. However, "15 mph" is a speed, the quantity we are comparing, so there is no underlying elliptical phrase that needs to be expanded. Out of curiosity, would you care to give us your take on a grammatically correct way of expressing the said sentence in English? Aug 4, 2011 at 13:41
  • 2
    Yes, please do give us the grammatically correct way of saying this. Otherwise you've just ranted and not really answered the question.
    – ErikE
    Aug 4, 2011 at 22:21
  • gramamatically! obviosly! "may be agreed ... that such ... be"! "fast speed is semantically incorrect construction" (don't you mean has?) Love it!
    – ErikE
    Aug 9, 2011 at 20:03
-3

This is an incomplete comparison. You are shorting

"He is shorter than I am."

Thus, the correct word to use is "I."

See http://www.wwnorton.com/college/english/write/we/ch6/23b.htm

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