Case 23: ``He did as much than anyone''

23rd September 2002

Filed by: Officer Taylor

The Offence

This nugget is from the Guardian's obituary for the ex-Chelsea footballer Ian Hutchinson at,1563,795560,00.html

The footballer Ian Hutchinson, who has died aged 54 after a long illness, arguably did as much, or more, than anyone to see that Chelsea finally defied the jinx and the joke on their participation in the FA Cup and, in 1970, won it.

Check out that phrase parenthesised in commas - ``or more''.

The Verdict

The Guardian's writer is guilty of wrongly constructing an alternative. What he wants to say is that Hutchinson ``did as much as anyone, or more than anyone''. Unfortunately, what he's said is that he ``did as much than anyone, or more than anyone''.

Why? Because the alternative phrase offered inside those parenthetical commas - ``more'' - is an alternative to the ``as much'' that immediately precedes it. But both alternatives share what comes immediately after the parenthesis: the preposition ``than'', which of course doesn't work with ``as much''.

To put it another way, when a parenthetic phrase is used - whether it is enclosed in commas, like this, or in actual parentheses (like this) or indeed in dashes like this whole clause - it should be possible to delete that phrase and read the sentence without it. In this case, that would yield ``[Hutchinson] arguably did as much ... than anyone''.

The sentence should be rewritten with the appropriate prepositions directly attached to each of the alternatives, like this:

Ian Hutchinson arguably did as much as, or more than, anyone to see that Chelsea finally defied the jinx.

That's correct and unambiguous, but hardly elegant. So a complete rewrite of this sentence might be in order: something like ``He did as much as anyone, and more than most''.

(And, by the way, what can possibly be meant by ``the joke on their participation''? Answers on the back of large-denomination bank notes to the usual address, please.)

The Sentence

This mistake is surely one of sheer carelessness. We refuse to believe that a broadsheet journalist could be ignorant enough to write something like this knowingly. Accordingly, we sentence him to pay more attention in future.

Next case!

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