2

You should know better than to behave like that.

In this sentence, is than a conjunction or preposition?

Oxford sense 2 has both conjunction and preposition used for comparison:

Used in expressions introducing an exception or contrast:
[as preposition] ‘he claims not to own anything other than his home’
[as conjunction] ‘they observe rather than act’

It's not easy to tell how they have categorised each use. If other than is a preposition, and rather than a conjunction, what is better than? How do I decide?

  • 1
    You can call it whatever you like, because it has only one use and that's to mark the baseline value of a comparative construction (better, rather, and other are all comparatives). So you could call it a preposition if it's followed by a noun phrase, and a conjunction if it's followed by a clause; but it doesn't matter, because it's just a comparative marker. – John Lawler Jan 6 '17 at 16:53
  • ... or a comparative construction baseline value marker? – Edwin Ashworth Jan 6 '17 at 17:11
1

I find useful the definition in Goold Brown's The Grammar of English Grammars:

A conjunction is a word used to connect words or sentences in construction, and to show the dependence of the terms so connected, as as, "Thou and he are happy, because you are good."

A preposition is a word used to express some relation of different things or thoughts to each other, and is generally placed before a noun or a pronoun.

[...] conjunctions, (except the introductory correspondents,) join words or sentences together, showing their relation either to each other or to something else; prepositions, though naturally subject themselves to something going before, assume the government of the terms which follow them, and in this they differ from all the rest.

[...][conjunctives] take the same case after as before them.

In he claims not to own anything other than his home, other than refers to, and governs, the noun home, and therefore is a preposition. In they observe rather than act, rather than connects two verbs that are equal in rights: observe and act, and therefore is a conjunction.

Notice that in the first example the nouns anything and home are not equal in rights, but the former is subordinated to the latter. This can be proven by observing

  1. that, for the phrase to make sense, the first term must be more general than the second, and

  2. that the second term is always in the objective case because of the government by other than, whereas the first may be in the nominative or the objective depending on the role of the whole phrase in the sentence: Any place (nominative) other than your home (objective) will be suitable for the party.

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