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I read a newspaper and found a title as follows:

We're finally better off than before the recession: Average household now has £24,300 in disposable income each year.

Only about half of Americans think they’re better off than before Obama took office.

What does "than before" mean in these sentence? Does it mean, for instance, "before Obama took office, half of Americans think they are not better off"?

  • It means that by implication, disposable income was a bit less than $24,300 (I assume that's dollars, not pounds) just before the recession. It fell much lower when the recession hit, but has been gradually creeping up and has now reached that figure. But either that increase is unevenly distributed (most likely, imho) or up to half of all Americans are too dumb to know whether they're better off today than they were a decade ago (which I don't think is likely). – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Oct 14 '16 at 17:17
  • Consider simpler examples like I'm richer / more rich now than how rich I was then, or It's hotter today than [how hot it was] yesterday for the more general construction. But note that better off (definitely not just better!) is a quirky idiomatically-established usage, which can't be "transposed" like that (i.e. - you can't idiomatically refer to ...than how better off I was in the past). – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Oct 14 '16 at 17:36
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In this particular example, 'than before' is a shortened form of 'than they were before.'

NOTE: The example statement tells nothing about what the other half thinks. Some of the other half may well have no opinion and assumptions about what they think are invalid.

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You are somewhat correct in thinking

Only about half of Americans think they’re better off than before Obama took office.

means

before Obama took office, half of Americans think they are not better off

since "only about half" think they are better off, the other half must think it's the same or worse.
This assumes everyone has an opinion.

The phrase

than before

has the meaning

in comparison to before some specific point in time

better than before Obama took office
better than in comparison to before Obama took office

tonight's dinner was better than before
tonight's dinner was better in comparison to other previous dinners

  • Thanh you so much – thegioibian Oct 14 '16 at 17:24
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It compares the situation before and after a point of reference in time.

We're finally better off than before the recession: Average household now has £24,300 in disposable income each year.

This means that the situation before the recession was not good and now Americans are more economically stable.

Only about half of Americans think they’re better off than before Obama took office.

This means that half of the Americans think that after Obama took office, conditions are better: the other half thinks that times were better before Obama.

Hope this adequately answers your question!

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