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(1) He is more clever than rude.

(2) ??He is as clever as rude.

I've learned (1) is natural and that (2) isn't.

(1) means "He is clever rather than rude".

Then, why can't (2) mean (2b)?

(2b) He is clever as he is rude.

In other words, why is (2) unnatural when (2b) is natural?

EDIT
The question used to ask why (2) is ungrammatical, but people here seem to agree that (2) is grammatical but just might be unnatural in Present-day English.

Questions

  1. I'd like to know why (2) is unnatural, not whether it's unnatural.
  2. Also, how natural (1b) is and why?

(1b) He is more clever than he is rude.


Addendum

The Cambridge Grammar (p 1121) says this is grammatical:

(3) Ed is more old than middle-aged.

and that this is not (p 1122):

(3b) *Ed is more old than he is middle-aged.

So, the Cambridge Grammar specifically says that the insertion of he is in (3) is what makes it ungrammatical.

BTW, the book calls this construction metalinguistic comparison.

  • 1
    "…more old than middle-aged" has a different meaning than "…older than middle aged" The first is saying that Ed is closer to being called "old" than he is being "middle-aged" The second is saying Ed is definitely beyond the middle-age marker. The two qualities are closely related, they both talk about age, so it's easy to parse its meaning. – Mari-Lou A Aug 20 '18 at 6:10
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“He is as clever as rude”?

It's not actually clear to me that all English speakers would agree that “He is as clever as rude” sounds unnatural. In fact, the following parallel example is treated as grammatical in Longmans' School Grammar, by David Salmon (1890):

The teacher is as clever as kind. The teacher is as clever as [he is] kind.

(p. 162, accessed through Google Books)

On the other hand, "The teacher is as clever as kind" and "He is as clever as rude" do sound a bit weird to me (and Mari-Lou A left a comment indicating that this construction sounds bad to her as well). Also, I did find a WordReference forum thread where more speakers mention that omitting "he is" in sentences like this sounds bad to them: She is as beautiful as smart.

To sum up, it seems the acceptability of this construction might vary between dialects or time periods: if so, any explanation for why it is "unnatural" would have to at least allow for that variation (if not account for it).

A Feb 13, 2018 post by entangledbank in the WordReference thread suggests that it is generally not possible to omit a subject, or a subject and verb, in comparative constructions like this. This would suggest that “He is more clever than rude” is not actually an elliptical form of "“He is more clever than he is rude”; this is consistent with my intuition about that sentence, but maybe not with other speakers' (see discussion below).

“He is more clever than (he is) rude”

I'm not sure about the grammar of (1); to me, "He is more clever than rude" sounds better than "He is more clever than he is rude," but Jason Bassford has left a comment indicating that he has the opposite judgement.

  • The sentences don't work if the subject and auxiliary are omitted after the second "as": 1. He is as clever as rude. 2. She is as pretty as mean. BUT the following are fine: He is cleverer than rude and She is prettier than mean – Mari-Lou A Aug 16 '18 at 6:07
  • No. I just see the book's cover. Clicking on the "Get Print Book" does nothing either. I get this page if I search the string: "The teacher is as clever as kind" google.com/… P.S There is no ebook link. – Mari-Lou A Aug 16 '18 at 6:12
  • I believe both sentences sound perfectly fine with the parenthetical words included. The first is okay without the words, but I (anyway) don't think it sounds as natural. – Jason Bassford Supports Monica Aug 16 '18 at 6:51
  • Sorry for the confusion. I've edited the question to fix the problem. Does the question make sense now? If so, please edit your answer accordingly. If not, please let me know. Thanks. – JK2 Aug 16 '18 at 7:27
  • “He is as clever as rude” sounds a bit stilted to me and probably isn’t the way many native speakers would phrase it nowadays, but I wouldn’t call it ungrammatical, just old-timey. It has that vague whiff of Jane Austen about it. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 16 '18 at 7:36
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My guess would be that it feels unnatural because people expect a comparison with another subject:

He is as clever as Tom.

So when we hear 'as clever as rude', it sounds confusing and potentially ambiguous, so we repeat the subject for emphasis (as noted in your question)

He is as clever as he is rude.

  • Then why does 'more clever than rude' NOT sound 'confusing and potentially ambiguous'? Also, please see my third EDIT. – JK2 Aug 20 '18 at 3:33
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simile

When we use "like" or "as" to compare two things together, we are saying that they are similar in some ways. For example, “She is as cunning as a fox” and “It's as precious as gold”

This is the main reason why the following sentence appears to sound awkward, and to my ears, ungrammatical. We are accustomed to hearing a predicative adjective being compared to a noun

Thus the following sentence sounds strange

He is as clever as rude

We sense that something is odd. Well, I do. And it sounds incomplete to me. The adjectives "clever" and "rude" seem not to belong together, it's not a common collocation. However, if we repeat the same pronoun and verb, or insert an "as well as" between the two different adjectives the resulting sentence sounds very natural.

He is as clever as he is rude
He is clever as well as rude

And if we used a noun instead of a second adjective, we'd have

He is as clever as a fox
He is clever like a fox

  • Then, how come He is more clever than rude sounds okay, and perhaps even better than He is more clever than he is rude? – JK2 Aug 17 '18 at 12:51
  • @JK2 Because "than" rather than "as" is used, and I prefer to say and write "He is more clever than he is rude", but not everyone's dialect is the same. Besides the main question is So the question now asks why (2) is unnatural. – Mari-Lou A Aug 17 '18 at 13:35
  • In any case, sumelic's answer is basically saying he doesn't think it is unnatural but he might be wrong. “I don't have a strong intuition that "He is as clever as rude" is acceptable” Does he explain why (1) is natural or not? – Mari-Lou A Aug 17 '18 at 13:44
  • Please see my third EDIT. – JK2 Aug 20 '18 at 3:33

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