Ambiguous “More Than” Phrases

How to Avoid Ambiguous “More Than” Phrases

 
Consider the following sentence:

Jasmine likes Haley more than Margaret.

What does this sentence mean? Does Jasmine like Haley more than Jasmine likes Margaret, or does Jasmine like Haley more that Margaret likes Haley? The way this sentence has been written, the answer is not clear.

Because this sentence has two possible meanings, it is said to be ambiguous. Writers often write ambiguous sentences such as this. Because the writer knows what he or she means when writing a sentence like this, it is easy for the writer to neglect the possibility that the reader will not know what is meant.

Sometimes, it is easy to get away with this mistake in some instances. For example, if I were to write, “I like chocolate more than vanilla,” it would be obvious that I mean I like chocolate more than I like vanilla. No one would read this sentence to mean that I like chocolate more than vanilla likes chocolate.

While it is not crucial that the sentence about chocolate and vanilla is fixed, the sentence about Jasmine, Haley, and Margaret does need to be fixed because both possible meanings are  likely to be read.

Fixing such a sentence is simple. Here are two revised sentences from which the ambiguity has been removed:

Jasmine likes Haley more than she likes Margaret.

Jasmine likes Haley more than Margaret does.

Neither of these sentences leaves room for interpretation; the reader will take the sentence to mean exactly what the writer wants it to mean.


 
Jake Magnum, author of the Magnum Proofreading Tips blog, is dedicated to helping writers perfect their work. In addition to giving free advice on his blog, Jake helps writers by offering very affordable proofreading services at magnumproofreading.com.

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