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These are a few examples in wren and martin English Grammar book related to the articles. Kindly explain the difference between these two sentences:

  • He is a better mechanic than clerk.

  • He is a better mechanic than a clerk (would make).

He would make a better statesman than a philosopher. (Would make) {what does would make in the bracket imply?

  • The bulleted would make version sounds odd. It implies that clerks construct mechanics. Setting that aside, the juxtaposition is suggestive of a discussion on ellipsis. – Lawrence May 20 '17 at 4:41
  • @Lawrence, taking up the things you've set aside, the would make implies that the clerk could perform the function or take the role of a mechanic, but that it's hypothetical. I suppose it could also have said "He makes a better mechanic than a clerk would". – Mathieu K. Jul 19 '17 at 16:39
  • @MathieuK. Yes, that's a valid and more natural way of reading the statement. – Lawrence Jul 19 '17 at 16:44
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He is a better mechanic than clerk.

I would interpret this sentence as implying that a mechanic is trying to play the role of clerk and doing poorly at it.

He is a better mechanic than a clerk (would make).

I would interpret this second sentence as implying that a male (perhaps a clerk) is playing the role of mechanic and doing better at it than one would expect from a clerk.

  • Indeed. The would make is inserted for clarity, to make it evident that the first sentence compares two jobs the subject could do, whereas the second compares two different people doing the same job. The point appears to be that the "a" in "than a clerk" makes all the difference. – Mathieu K. Jul 19 '17 at 16:48
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In the first bullet there is only one person. The sentence says that a man is a better mechanic than he is a clerk. He is a better mechanic than clerk.

In the second bullet there are two people (or potentially more, because a is an indefinite article). Since it is that a clerk does not do the job of a mechanic very well, a mechanic is a better mechanic than a clerk. Or, when referring to a particular, male mechanic, he is a better mechanic than a clerk. Furthermore, since a clerk does not regularly do the job of a mechanic, he is a better mechanic than a clerk would make (if the clerk somehow does find himself acting as a mechanic).

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    I would suggest that the second example is not as clear as you propose. To me it holds ambiguity, as to whether it means "John is a better mechanic than a clerk would make", or "John is a better mechanic than he is a clerk". Personally, I would be careful of using it like that, with key words elided. The first example is clear. – WS2 May 20 '17 at 9:56

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