There is a grammar textbook that gives the following example.

(a) It looked more like a cormorant than a heron.

(b) It looked more like a cormorant than like a heron.

The textbook says that (b) is better than (a), but the thing is that I have never heard or seen any instance of (b) in my life.

This leads me to my question. Is there a difference between the "more like X than Y" and "more like X than like Y" constructions, and if so, what might that be?

  • 3
    The textbook is wrong. It ignores pragmatics, concentrating merely on logic / syntax. Yes, 'Jill was more like Anne than Jean' might be misconstrued because of the inherent ambiguity, and should usually be rephrased (though in speech stress would clarify), but when disambiguation is obvious (as in [a]), the fuller version [b] would be far less idiomatic, as you imply. Commented Apr 20 at 14:58
  • Oof. Maybe take Strunk and White literally but not seriously? (Or maybe it's the other way around.)
    – K. A. Buhr
    Commented Apr 20 at 21:47

1 Answer 1


The example given is an indication of how this might work - and was probably the point the writer of the textbook may have been trying to make.

(a) It looked more like a cormorant than a heron contains a possible ambiguity. Did "it" look more like a cormorant than it looked like a heron, or did "it" look more like a cormorant than a heron looks like a cormorant?

(b) It looked more like a cormorant than like a heron avoids this ambiguity. It's clear that we are comparing "it" to both a cormorant and a heron, rather than any other interpretation.

  • 1
    Yes, there is a potential ambiguity here. However, my ear tells me that spoken there could be a small but significant tone of voice - small but sufficient to enable a listener to tell which meaning was intended.
    – Tuffy
    Commented Apr 20 at 19:35
  • 1
    In actual practice, barring clear context otherwise, I would always assume (b). You would otherwise write "It looks more like a cormorant than a heron does."
    – trlkly
    Commented Apr 21 at 3:07
  • +1 for explaining the textbook's reasoning, even though I think it's flawed (I agree with trlkly about the usual expectation, and adding the verb if the other meaning is intended). Commented Apr 21 at 8:28
  • Apologies for the probably dumb question of a non-native speaker: Would the alternative meaning not be more properly expressed by "It looked more like a cormorant than a heron does"?
    – flaschbier
    Commented Apr 21 at 8:36
  • 1
    @flaschbier - less ambiguously, certainly. Most of the time with option a) the context (or tone as Tuffy suggests) is going to help : it can be ambiguous, but probably won't be. Commented Apr 21 at 10:55

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