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I came across this sentence

But the snow came earlier than usual that year.

This is from a novel. I can understand it if it is "usual years". What's the meaning of " usual that year "?

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    You are parsing the sentence incorrectly. You should be asking 'what does the phrase "earlier than usual" mean?' You could rearrange the sentence as: But, that year, the snow came earlier than usual. – Mick Dec 16 '16 at 17:18
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As Mick mentions, you can rewrite the sentence as:

That year, the snow came earlier than usual.

The idiom "[X-comparative] than usual" simply means "more X than is normal or typical". It's a common phrase:

Her grades were better than usual this term.

The tomatoes are riper than usual at the market.

I went to bed later than usual last night.

And so on.

If I wanted to pair a word like "usual" with "year" I could write something like this:

The snows came earlier than in a typical year.

Here I compare this year to a usual year, but the meaning is the same.

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  • Thank you for helpful answer. I got it. I misunderstood the structure as "usual" modifies " that year ", – Yuuichi Tam Dec 16 '16 at 17:44

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