The Missing Verb

Is there anything wrong with the following sentence? “She looks better than me.” The clue is a missing verb at the end: “She looks better than me (looks).” What’s the solution? Read on.

The obvious fix

It would be tempting to replace me with I—”She looks better than I (look).”—but when the verb at the end is removed again—”She looks better than I.”—it sounds weird.

The problem

The issue here is that pronouns like I, he, she, we and me, him, her, and us can be of the subject of a sentence or phrase—the one doing the action of the verb—or it can be the object—the target of the action. I, he, and she are subject pronouns, while me, him, and her are object pronouns.

The cause

The problem arises because of the word “than”. In one way, it can be viewed as a conjunction that connects two complete sentences—”She looks better—than—”I (look).” This would require the second sentence, with the invisible verb, to have a subject, which would be the subject pronoun “I”.

In another way, “than” can be viewed as a preposition. A preposition combines with a noun or pronoun to form a phrase that modifies an object or action. The noun or pronoun that goes with the preposition is called the object of the preposition. So, in this case, the correct choice would be the object pronoun “me.—”She looks better—than me.”

Confusion—another example

Let’s look at the following two sentences, which both treat than as a conjunction. 1) “A likes B more than I“; and 2) “A likes B more than me.” Both might be considered to be correct, but they have very different meanings.

Case 1: By using the subject pronoun “I”, the speaker/writer is declaring that “A likes B more than I (like B).”

Case 2: By using the object pronoun “me”, the speaker/writer is declaring that “A likes B more than (A likes) me.”

On the other hand, if than is treated as a preposition, both sentences would require the object pronoun me. The one remaining sentence—”A likes B more than me.”—would then have both possible meanings above. This confusion, then, would tend to favor treating “than” as a conjunction.

Conclusion

One thing you can do is fill in the missing verb and decide which pronoun is correct (and/or which sounds better to the ear). Though both forms are “standard”, the conjunction form is usually preferred. There are two practical fixes: 1) Insert the missing verb—”She looks better than I do.” OR 2) Rephrase the sentence.

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