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  1. ohmyrichard
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    ohmyrichard Active Member

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    than exist or than exists

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by ohmyrichard, Apr 14, 2009.

    Hi, everyone.
    Today my fellow teachers asked me which of the four options is the correct one for the blank in the following multiple choice question:

    These proposals sought to place greater restrictions on the use and copying of digital information than ________ in traditional media.
    A. exist B. exists C. existing D. to exist

    I chose A and my reason is that "than exist in traditional media" in this case means "than those which exist in traditional media" or "than the restrictions we have in traditional media", but I'm not so sure of it. I would like you to help me with it.

    I have come across the same kind of sentence before and have taken notes of them. I have got one taken from the Oxford dictionary, p. 284, which goes like this:
    Circumlocation means using more words than are necessary, instead of speaking or writing in a clear, direct way.

    There's another example sentence taken from a book on English writing by a Chinese professor of linguistics:
    You can make your definitions reasonably complete by using as many techniques of defining as are necessary.

    A famous Chinese professor named Chuangui Ge (葛传椝),who passed away in 1992, points out in his The Writing of English (It is an English book intended for Chinese learners of English) that "that which" might be supplied after "than"/ "as" in each sentence above.

    Please tell me, how do you native speakers interpret such than-/ as- structures? Most importantly, how do you decide whether the finite verb following "than" or "as" in such sentences is in its third person singular form or in its third person plural form?
    Thanks.
    Richard
     
  2. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    The correct answer is 'exist' because 'restrictions' is plural--they exist, not 'exists'.
     
  3. ohmyrichard
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    ohmyrichard Active Member

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    Thanks for your reply, madhoca. Then do you think the sentence "These proposals sought to place greater restrictions on the use and copying of digital information than exist in traditional media." is quite idiomatic? To be precise, what do you think of the collocation "great(er) restrictions"? And do you native speakers really say "restrictions exist in traditional media"?
    Thanks.
    Richard
     
  4. Okie
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    Okie Member

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    ...not in everyday use, but our news reporters are forced to say this sort of stuff all the time.
     
  5. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    I second this. So, groups of words used like this--collocations (I guess you're an English teacher?)--are quite familiar to native speakers, even though they wouldn't really speak like this. Academic writing uses phases like this also.
     
  6. ohmyrichard
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    ohmyrichard Active Member

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    Thanks, madhoca. Yes, I am an English teacher. So my students always expect me to explain everything clearly. But you know, sometimes it is quite difficult or just impossible to do this job and this than- or as- structure is a good example. That professor Chuangui Ge claims that in this structure it is "that which" omitted, but I myself still find this interpretation is rather difficult to comprehend and my students have the same reaction to it. I have also found that there is a great controversy among grammarians over how to analyze this structure.
    You mentioned in your reply that "native speakers wouldn't speak like this." Then would you please tell me how you express the same idea in your daily conversations? Thanks.
    Richard
     
  7. ohmyrichard
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    ohmyrichard Active Member

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    Thanks, Okie. Would you please tell me how you express this same idea in your daily conversations?
    Thanks.
    Richard
     
  8. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    We'd say:

    These proposals/proposals like these tried putting/attempted to put
    more limits on copying and using digital information than there are in printed media.

    or something like that, maybe. But there are plenty of variations you could have on this. It's the word 'restriction' and the '....sought...than...' that make this sentence more how we would write than how we would speak.
     
  9. ohmyrichard
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    ohmyrichard Active Member

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    Thank you for your explanation of the difference between the two versions in terms of style. I have consulted my dictionary and found that "seek" is a formal word. Although I have learned English for a long long time, I always feel like I never have the time and energy for memorizing which word is formal and which is not. I admit that this is a bad tendency which has to be reversed.
    Thanks again for your terrific explanation.
    Richard
     
  10. A2theDre
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    A2theDre Active Member

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    What is your native language Richard? I love the way people write/speak when they're not a natural English speaker, it's always so formal.

    On topic, however, if I was speaking, I probably would have said "exists", but on reflection, I think "exist" is more correct.
     
  11. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    The answer to this question interests me as well, though I must add that regardless of your native tongue, your grasp of English diction and syntax is quite beautiful. One might use the word benchmark. Yes, one might. ;)
     
  12. ohmyrichard
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    ohmyrichard Active Member

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    Thanks, A2theDre. My native language is Chinese and I'm a teacher of English writing at a college in eastern China. By the way, don't be mistaken, the sentence "These proposals sought to place greater restrictions on the use and copying of digital information than exist in traditional media." is most probably taken from a report writen by a native journalist.
    Now that you've mentioned the aspect of formality of the sentence, I'm curious about your possible informal way of expressing this same idea. It will be interesting to compare the two ways-- formal and informal.
    Non-natives like me tend to express their ideas in textbook English, which is acceptable to you natives but does not sound so natural. At a glance you will quickly feel the difference in flavour.
    Please tell me, how would you rephrase that sentence a different way?
    Thanks.
    Richard
     
  13. ohmyrichard
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    ohmyrichard Active Member

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    Hi, Wreybies.
    Please tell me, who are you addressing, A2theDre or me? I'm sorry I got confused about it.
     
  14. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    That was addressed to you, dear sir. ;)
     
  15. ohmyrichard
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    ohmyrichard Active Member

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    As you referred to A2theDre's post, I was unable to figure it out.
    Thanks for your compliment. I have learned English for many many years and I am now a teacher of English writing at a college in eastern China, but I admit that I am only capable of using textbook English to express my ideas. Recently I have been reading a collection of essays by American college students, some of which I am unable to fully comprehend. They use rather different words to express their ideas. I decide that the next step I will take is to read more widely and learn to express ideas their way. Although this may be a journey which will never end, I am determined to start it right away.
    By the way, what is your native language?
     
  16. A2theDre
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    A2theDre Active Member

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    I really don't know of another way to phrase that sentence. With an informal approach, I guess I would have said something like the following:

    "These ideas tried to put more restrictions on the way we use digital information in traditional media."

    In reality, though, I probably wouldn't have included the word "traditional" at all, but I feel that it is key to the actual statement in that it is distinguishing itself as different from contemporary media.

    Comparing my informal approach and the original statement, I can't really see any way of advising you how to tell the difference between formal and informal. Case in point would be with the words "sought" and "tried." Both are simple words but are very different in formality. I think that only practice in verbal conversations with a native speaker will help you identify this difference.

    In saying that, however, your grasp of English is far superior to many of my native English speaking friends. I commend you on that. Well done and good luck!
     
  17. A2theDre
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    A2theDre Active Member

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    Dare we dream of that level to be a benchmark?
     
  18. ohmyrichard
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    ohmyrichard Active Member

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    Thanks for your kind words, A2theDre.
    Richard
     
  19. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    You are most welcome. Spanish is my native language. I also speak Russian.

    I would say yes. It is one thing to have a common tongue which exists alongside the correct, but when the common tongue replaces the correct tongue outright, then there is a loss in capacity. I am not a proscriptionist, but I love to see the English language wielded in it's full strength, with all of its powers and subtleties intact. This, for me, is a thing to be admired. Hence, when I run across someone like Richard, whose native tongue does not even belong to the same family of languages as English, showing masterful control of the language, mine is but to applaud. *makes appreciative clapping sound* ;)
     

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