The Grammar Factor: design with words, ‘he’ or ‘him’ after ‘than’?

By Mary Morel | October 2016

Design with words in Microsoft Word

Tips for formatting your Word documents

First impressions count and we base our initial judgement of how easy a business document will be to read based on the way it looks.

Strict length requirements sometimes encourage writers to do crazy things to the layout such as reduce the font size and change the margins. I have seen a two-page risk paper with just one heading, numbered paragraphs and no line spaces. It was impossible to read.

Tips for formatting your Word documents include:

  • Use templates
  • Create balance through white space
  • Choose the best tools for your message
  • Use bold, italics and underlining appropriately
  • Use initial capitals sparingly and consistently
  • Use consistent and modern styles

Read the rest of the blog.

Your grammar questions answered

What pronoun should you use after ‘than’?

Question: Here is a question I’ve been wondering about for years. Here is the basic sentence – and I’m going to focus on race car drivers – hope you don’t mind:

Nico Rosberg was faster than Lewis Hamilton in the last race.

That’s pretty straightforward. One could switch the names and simply add ‘slower’, and it would still make sense:

Lewis was slower than Nico.

Both proper names can function as subjects. Now let’s substitute pronouns for the two proper nouns.

Which is correct?

  • He was faster than him in the last race.
  • He was faster than he (was) in the last race.

If you were to write this sentence in German and substitute pronouns for the names, you would add two personal or subject pronouns: ‘Er ist schneller als er.’ You would not say, ‘er ist schneller als ‘ihm’, where ‘ihm’ is the object pronoun of ‘er’.

My response: I would say ‘him’. but experts don’t agree on which pronoun should come after ‘than’.

The Guide to Grammar and Writing says:

‘When the personal pronoun follows exceptbutthan, or as, you’ve got an argument on your hands. Traditionally, these words have been regarded as conjunctions and the personal pronoun that follows has been regarded as the subject of a clause (which might not be completed). Thus “No one could be as happy as I.” (If you provide the entire mechanism of the clause — “as I [am]” — you see the justification for the subject form.) The same goes for these other conjunctions: “Whom were you expecting? who else but he?” “My father is still taller than she” [than she is].

‘Many grammarians have argued, however, that these words are often used as prepositions, not conjunctions (and have been used that way for centuries by many good writers). In a structure such as “My mother is a lot like her,” we have no trouble recognizing that “like” is acting as a preposition and we need the object form of the pronoun after it. Why, then, can’t we use “than” and “but” as prepositions in sentences such as “Dad’s a lot taller than him” and “No one in this class has done the homework but me”? Such usage is now widely regarded as acceptable in all but the most formal writing. The same argument is sometimes used for the object form after as — “The coach is not as smart as me” — but this argument does not enjoy the cogency of using the object form after but and than.’

Splitting a quotation over three glasses

Reader’s question: I want to break up a quote onto three wine glasses, but I am unsure about the rules. The full quote is, ‘Halt ein! Halt ein! O Papageno und sei klug! Man lebt nur einmal; dies sei dir genug!’

I’m thinking about going with this:

1st glass: O Papageno und sei klug!
2nd glass: Man lebt nur einmal
3rd glass: dies sei dir genug!

Should I capitalise ‘dies’ on the third glass? Would ellipses be inappropriate?

Here’s another option:

1st glass: O Papageno und sei klug!
2nd glass: Man lebt nur einmal …
3rd glass: … dies sei dir genug!


My editor said:

This must be a quote from Act Two of Mozart’s opera, The Magic Flute.

Translated into English, it is: ‘Stop for a moment, O Papageno, and be smart! You only live once [literally, ‘Man only lives once’]; let this be enough for you.’

Papageno is contemplating suicide and this is what the Three Spirits say to stop him. Note that there should be a comma after ‘Papageno’.

Your reader has chosen to leave out the ‘Halt ein’ from the glasses.

I think it should go like this:

O Papageno, und sei klug!
Man lebt nur einmal
Dies sei dir genug!

No full stops are necessary on glasses! And ‘Dies’ should be capitalised. Ellipses would look awkward.

My recent podcasts

Structured thinking
Listen to Davina Stanley, managing director of Clarity College, talk about structured thinking.  (I mentioned this podcast last month, but didn’t give you the link.)

Your organisation’s board paper processes
Listen to Corporate Governance Specialist Lisa Coletta share her experiences reforming the board paper processes at a public utility organisation.

How do you approach reading?
Listen to Dana Skopal talk about her PhD findings on how people read government documents, and the lessons in her research for writers.

Facebook group

I’ve started a Facebook group and would be delighted if you joined.

Top grammar mistakes

I read an article about Roslyn Petelin’s new book, How Writing Works: A field guide to effective writing (Allen &Unwin), which will be released on 26 October.

Roselyn Petelin is an associate professor at the University of Queensland and has facilitated a free Coursera grammar course four times (I recommend it if she runs it again.)

Eleven common mistakes are listed at the bottom of the article, and I am assuming the list comes from her book. (The article says ‘Top 12 grammar mistakes’ and misses out number 5. I bet that error isn’t in the book!)

What grammar mistakes would make your top-12 list?

  1.  Between you and I. (It should be ‘between you and me’.)
  2. They invited him and myself. (It should be ‘him and me’.)
  3. They would of gone. (It should be ‘they would have gone’.)
  4. Stories I only tell my friends. (It should be ‘Stories I tell only my friends’.)
  5. The rich are very different to you and me. (Change ‘to’ to ‘from’ to make sense.)
  6.  The boy and his father agreed that he was a great sport. (Can you decide whether ‘he’ refers to the boy or his father?)
  7. A hierarchy of subjects still exist/exists in Australian schools. (Either is acceptable here.)
  8.  I’d like to thankyou for the invitation. (It should be ‘thank you’.)
  9. The staff were unanimous in support of their manager. (It should be ‘was’ because the word ‘staff’ is singular in this sentence.)
  10. You need a knack to getting on with your friends. (It should be ‘a knack for getting on with your friends’.)
  11.  I finished the job early, however I had other work to do. (I finished the job early; however, I had other work to do. The original sentence has a comma ‘splice’. Commas can’t splice two sentences.)


Interesting stuff about writing

Australian National Radio monthly segments on writing and grammar
Thanks to a reader, I have discovered that the ABC has a monthly writing and grammar section. You can listen to a segment about Australian English.

Learn grammar with comics
If you enjoy comics, The Oatmeal comics are a great way to learn grammar.

Sensis social media report
We spend a lot of time on Facebook! Read the 2016 Sensis report on social media.

Stop trying to sound smart when you’re writing
‘The best writing is so transparent that it doesn’t obscure the underlying message.’ Read more.

The Australian National Dictionary updated after 28 years
The latest two-volume edition includes thousands of new words, including Indigenous words. Read more.

Quote of the month

‘Writing is the only way to talk without being interrupted.’
Jules Renard, novelist and playwright


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