Does the sentence mean that Saudi Arabia has the far more large oil reserve?


This is the Alberta tar sands, the largest oil reserves on the planet outside of Saudi Arabia

Link to the story (4.00)

Link to map of Alberta location

1 Answer 1


Your interpretation is correct - the sentence means that Saudi Arabia has the largest oil reserves (not just larger, but the largest), followed by the Alberta tar sands.

This manner of sentence structure is used when the object in the first place is widely and commonly understood to possess the distinction that puts it in first place.

For example, the following sentences mean the same (the sentences may not be factually correct, but just used to prove a point):

  1. Bangalore has the second-highest number of software engineers, the first being Silicon Valley.

  2. Bangalore has the largest number of software engineers outside of Silicon Valley.

The first sentence assumes that the reader might not be aware of Silicon Valley's prominence in the software industry, so lists both regions with ordinal numbers.

The second sentence assumes (or implies) that Silicon Valley is accepted or perceived as the software capital of the world (in terms of number of software engineers), and based on that portrays Bangalore as the largest place after that.

Similarly, Saudi Arabia/the Middle East are widely perceived to be the oil-rich regions of the world, so the sentence you've mentioned has a similar structure. Since the TED talk in question is on the topic of oil, it is natural to assume that people are aware of Saudi Arabia's prominence.

On the other hand, a sentence in a textbook for school-going children would not use such a construct, it would use the clearer ordinal-based construct as those children might not yet possess awareness of Saudi Arabia's oil reserves.

This is the Alberta tar sands, which has the second-largest oil reserves on the planet, the first being Saudi Arabia.

  • 2
    No one knows how large Saudi Arabia's oil reserves are. For many years, Saudi Arabia claimed the same amount of oil reserves every year, no matter how much oil it pumped out of the ground.
    – Jasper
    Mar 30, 2017 at 5:03

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