Here is an example of something I occasionally encounter, and it always trips me up. The title of an applied mathematics book from Stanford University in 1959 is (bold mine)

Partial Differential Equations with More that Two Independent Variables in the Complex Domain

I myself would certainly use more than in all instances of constructions like the example above, but I also see more that from time to time. Whence comes this alternate construction?

closed as too localized by James Waldby - jwpat7, FumbleFingers, user19148, MetaEd, tchrist Dec 3 '12 at 16:24

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    Too Localised - it's obviously a typo. – FumbleFingers Nov 24 '12 at 16:07
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    Are you quite certain you have the capitalization correctly transcribed here? – tchrist Nov 24 '12 at 16:11
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    It seems to be a typo and the capitalization is incorrect: Partial Differential Equations with More Than Two Independent Variables in the Complex Domain – user21497 Nov 24 '12 at 16:19
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    @tchrist: Your last sentence there is key, I think. It's not that this particular error is caused by word processors with automatic spelling/syntax checkers, or computer keyboards. After all, I could say it's more that an automated approach would more than likely change "that" to "than" after "more". And "n" isn't next to "t" on a standard keyboard. I think it's just that the mistake would always have been made by the careless writer - but when proof-reading is delegated to software, some types of error are disproportionately likely to sneak through. – FumbleFingers Nov 24 '12 at 17:04
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    "There is more that we need to discuss." "There is more than we can eat." I can easily see this being a problem for word processors to catch consistently. – tylerharms Nov 24 '12 at 17:14

While I agree with the Unprestidigitator’s assessment that this is a typo, there is nevertheless a thing or two of interest to be learned here.

First, the Google N-gram for “more that one/two/three/four”:

Google N-gram for “more that one/two/three/four”

Now compare that with the N-gram for the correct version:

correct more than one/two/three/four

Two important observations are that

  1. In both cases, the lower the cardinal number, the more frequent the usage, even of the typo. That makes sense, and shows that we’re asking the right question, since if we got different proportions, something would be wrong.
  2. Since word processors and automatic spelling correctors appeared, the proportion of errors has taken a sharp spike. This shows clear evidence that there is some substance to the the frequently heard lament from both “end-user” reader and professional copywriter alike that the quality of published texts suffered from the advent of computer-assisted writing. This seems a paradox, but data like these really do seem to support the notion. Why that may be, however, is beyond the scope of this question and indeed of ELU itself.

For those who doubt this is anything but an error, just compare the first two using both correct and incorrect formulations. Here is the N-gram to show just one and two, but with both the correct and incorrect version:

than-vs-that ngram

Notice how the typo versions seem to flatline. However, if you read the fine print for the year-2000 data, you will see that there are 594 instances of more than one for each single instance of the incorrect more that one, and there are 670 instances of more than two for each single instance of the incorrect more that two.

A hundred years ago it was different. Here is the year-1900 snapshot:

year-1900 snapshot graph with actual figures

Now the ratio is 1311 to 1 for the more than/that one case, and 2606 to 1 for the more than/that two case. In other words, the first is now about twice as frequent (2.21 : 1) a mistake in 2000 as it was in 1900, and the second error is now about four times more likely (3.89 : 1) for the same time points.

This is extremely suggestive that it is only a typo, and checking the individual hits shows conclusively that it always is either a typo, or in a few cases, a false positive due to intervening punctuation.

In conclusion, the analysis that this is a typo, albeit an increasingly frequent one, seems to be borne out by the observed data. The increasing frequency is cause for some distress regarding our “modern” text-production methods, but it is also likely why the question was raised here in the first place.

  • That's fantastic stuff. – tylerharms Nov 24 '12 at 16:41
  • +1 - Excellent as always, but who (or what) is "Unprestidigitator"? – user19148 Nov 24 '12 at 17:09
  • Was there ever any doubt whatsoever that it was a typo, though? – Neil Coffey Nov 24 '12 at 17:19
  • @NeilCoffey Ask the OP, not me. – tchrist Nov 24 '12 at 20:47
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    @Carlo_R. An Unprestidigitator is someone who Fumbles using their Fingers. Relevant link – Andrew Leach Nov 24 '12 at 20:59

In addition to tchrist's excellent analysis about the increased prevalence of this typo, I though I'd toss out one other tidbit.

Obviously the spell-checker doesn't complain because "that" is spelled correctly. But I find it interesting to consider why the grammar checker also misses this common typo when it warns against many others. I presume it's because "more that" is actually a legitimate construction:

The problem is more that things could change at any moment.

Although the particular example in the OP's question was clearly a typo, I think this goes to part of the question: "Whence comes this alternate construction?"

  • But there is no valid parse for “Partial Differential Equations with More that Two Independent Variables in the Complex Domain”, so this is a bug in any software that is supposed to recognize such errors but fails to do so. – tchrist Nov 24 '12 at 22:08
  • @tchrist - Yeah, as a software developer, it seems easy enough to add a rule to flag constructions of: "More that <one/two/three/etc.>" It wouldn't catch everything, but it should at least flag a subset of common failures. – Lynn Nov 25 '12 at 13:07

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