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Today I'd like to present my question about the passablity of what I'll post below.

Just as I talked with my american friends(I am Japanese) on discord, a certain person said to me;

Are romantic relationships more abnormal than not for Japanese in their 20s?

The context is to mock Japanese low birthrate and low marriage rate. Anyway, I got a bit confused because by him using a single "not", I couldn't tell what he really meant. With "not", we can associate the sentence with two senses or more; "not romantic relationship" or "not abnormal". According to the speaker, it means the latter. Thus I think that "more/less X than not" means "more/less X than not X". The idiom, "More often than not", "More likely than not" can be interpreted through this structure. Do you think this structure has common passablity?; That is, can I adapt this as I please, like "more brilliant than not", "more famous than not", "more easy than not". I think this structure can be better off if it is used in question sentences.

Any thought?

  • The idiom is "more X than not (X)". – Hot Licks Jan 2 '19 at 2:49
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    I can't recall ever having heard this structure used other than in the stock phrases "more often than not" and "more likely than not." The examples that you give with abnormal, brilliant, famous and easy all sound odd to my ear. – Al Maki Jan 2 '19 at 3:52
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It clearly does mean more abnormal than not abnormal - and it is certainly idiomatic English.

However I personally would not have used it in that type of context, because it sounds rather absurd to say someone is more abnormal than they are not abnormal. And it is similar with "more brilliant/famous/easy than not".

These are "gradable" adjectives, which are possessed by their subjects in varying degrees. And "more xxxx than not" is not a very descriptive way of explaining degree.

More aptly one could say that someone was "not very romantic", "above/below average in their romantic inclination" or express it in 101 other different ways.

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  • Thank you for your cooperation. "Descriptive way of explaining degree" Well, I think that this structure functions as an indicator of the entity of the subject's attribute which is described through adjective; That is, it wants to say "A is X, rather than not X.", therefore the emphasis is put on "the existence" of the attribute, not its relative degree. "X is more abnormal than not" can be interpreted as "X is abnormal, and one doesn't know how much, but anyway X is so." Thus it is too strong to say the use of this is absurd. Could you please tell me your, and others', opinions. – gorudo Dec 1 '18 at 10:57
  • 'It clearly does mean more abnormal than not abnormal – and it is certainly idiomatic English. However I personally would not have used it in that type of context, because it sounds rather absurd to say someone is more abnormal than they are not abnormal.' is self-contradictory. The structure is not ungrammatical per se ('more often than not', 'more likely than not') but 'more abnormal than not' (etc) is totally unidiomatic. – Edwin Ashworth Sep 23 at 14:54
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Yeah, it's a neat shortcut for saying "51% or more X". And like the other answer states, the sentence you quote is a bit tortured - it's not the clearest writing. One reason is because of the "double negative", something we try to avoid. I had to pause for a moment to figure out what its author meant. And yes, also, it's sometimes said in an ironic way. Although, "more often than not" is just fine and common. It's a longer way of talking, so it goes well with a beer in one hand and a pool cue in the other.

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