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Russia will have less grain than if Stalin had not insisted upon the adoption of Lysenko's theories.

I can understand the meaning of the sentence but am not familiar with 'than' here. Can you explain the usage of 'than' here?

  • You will have more answers here than if you had asked the question elsewhere. Ungrammatical, because there is no second comparand. What is missing? A content-clause: .... than [you would have] if you had asked the question elsewhere. An if-clause is not a valid comparand. – Tᴚoɯɐuo May 13 '17 at 19:35
  • @Tᴚoɯɐuo I beg to disagree. If we go by that explanation, I guess we will end up marking "Alice is more beautiful than Eva" ungrammatical. Isn't it? – Man_From_India May 14 '17 at 5:53
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    @Man_From_India: I don't see how your Alice/Eva comment has anything to do with my statement than an if-clause is not a valid comparand. – Tᴚoɯɐuo May 14 '17 at 12:51
  • @Tᴚoɯɐuo Let me be clear. See, in OP's sentence the clause is missing, here in Alice/Eva sentence also there is a missing clause. Isn't it? If you don't consider it that way, you would end up comparing "beautiful" with "Eva"; an adjective with a Noun. This is something you didn't like in your answer, if I understood it correctly. – Man_From_India May 14 '17 at 13:38
  • @Man_From_India: Do you consider this sentence grammatical: This restaurant food is more delicious than if I had cooked it myself. – Tᴚoɯɐuo May 14 '17 at 14:17
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+100

In this case the sentence is like so:

X is comparably different than [X would be] if Y had happened.

This sentence has the omission of X would be after the word than.

This sentence is shorter than if I had not omitted part of it.

This sort of sentence compares a current situation to a hypothetical one. In your sentence:

Russia will have less grain than [it would have] if Stalin had not insisted upon the adoption of Lysenko's theories.

You can also reverse this comparison like so:

Russia would have had more grain if Stalin had not insisted upon the adoption of Lysenko's theories.

This sentence implies that Russia will have less grain compared to the hypothetical situation.

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We use the construction something is less or greater than something else when we are comparing two things that are expressed, most often, as quantities. So, in your case, the first something expressed as a quantity would be the grain that Russia will have. What's the amount of grain that Russia will have? Well, it's going to be less. Alright, but less than what? It's going to be less than the amount that we would have gotten if Stalin had not insisted upon the adoption of Lysenko's theories. Does that make any sense?

  • Thanks. I think I 've got it. So I can say "I could end up with more money than if the housing market stayed strong."? – whitecap May 7 '17 at 5:32
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The complement of than there is an awkward one, IMO. The sentence is poorly expressed.

Consider this simple sentence, where wheat, a simple noun, complements than, paralleling the noun "corn". Noun compared to noun in terms of quantity.

You have less corn than wheat.

In other words, your wheat stocks exceed your corn stocks.

Now consider this more complex sentence where a noun phrase and a conditional clause complements than:

You have less corn than you would have had if we had seen more sunny days.

In other words, a rainy growing season lowered the crop yield.

Here, we have a noun, corn, compared to the nominal idea that can be extracted from the complement of than. We can extract such a nominal idea, because there's simply an ellipsis from the noun-phrase "you would have had":

... less corn than { [the corn] you would have had } if we had seen more sunny days.

[the corn] is inferred from the less-X-than-{NP} structure (less corn than {NP}), and so the ellipsis of [the corn] from the NP does not cause us to stumble.

The sentence you quoted is a form of the second type, where the quantity comparands are a simple noun, grain, and the nominal idea that can be extracted from a nominal complement of than:

Russia will have less grain than if Stalin had not insisted upon the adoption of Lysenko's theories.

However, we cannot extract a nominal from the conditional clause if Stalin had not insisted upon the adoption of Lysenko's theories. There is no elided noun that can be plugged into that conditional clause, as we did above with { [the corn] you would have had}. The sentence about Stalin is the structural equivalent of:

You have less corn than if we had seen more sunny days.

More than an implied noun has been omitted from a noun-phrase there. The noun-phrase in its entirety has been omitted.

That sentence is ungrammatical. The sentence about Stalin is ungrammatical.

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Term Comparison is grammatical term, and the sentences below are the examples of Term Comparison:

  1. Eva is more beautiful than Alice.

  2. This country will treat you much better if you are rich than if you are poor.

  3. There is less blood on there than if I cut myself shaving.

  4. You actually are in more danger being afraid to confront the bully than if you confront him and he punches back on you.

In all the sentences above, the first term is being compared to the second term.

In sentence #1, the first term is "Eva is beautiful" and the second term is "Alice is beautiful". The first term is being compared to the second term. "Eva is beautiful" > "Alice is beautiful". If it's possible to measure/evaluate the beautifulness, and say for example, "Eva is X unit beautiful" and "Alice is Y unit beautiful", then X > Y.

In sentence #2, the first term is "The country will treat you X way if you are rich" and the second term is "The country will treat you Y way if you are poor". The first term is being compared to the second term, and it boils down to X is much better than Y.

In sentence #3, the first term is "There is X amount of blood in there" and the second term is "there is Y amount of blood if I cut myself shaving". And X is less than Y.

In sentence #4, the first term is "you are in danger being afraid to confront the bully" the second term is "you are in danger if you confront him and he punches back on you". The first term is being compared to the second term. In both cases you are in danger, but the first case is more dangerous than the second case.


OP's quoted sentence is also similar.

Russia will have less grain than if Stalin had not insisted upon the adoption of Lysenko's theories.

The first term here is "Russia will have X amount of grain (considering the present condition that Stalin had insisted upon the adoption of Lysenko's theories)". The second term is "Russia would have had Y amount of grain if Stalin had not insisted upon the adoption of Lysenko's theories". And X < Y.

This is a perfectly valid, and grammatical sentence, not by any means weird.

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Seems that the answer here is rather simple. The comparison in this sentence is implied and doesn't need to be expressed.
Russia will have less grain than [Russia would have] if Stalin had not insisted upon the adoption of Lysenko's theories.

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A

@SwampGas and Mr Hamilton are basically correct, but their phrasing can be generalized:

Any time you have "...than if..." being used together, the understood expression is "...than would be the case if..." or "...than would be true if..."

Russia will have less grain than [would be the case] if Stalin had not insisted upon the adoption of Lysenko's theories.

Belarus suffers a lower standard of living than [would be true] if it had liberalized its economy faster.

Finland will have fewer apples than [would be the case] if the frost giants had not come.

Polandball has more air than [would be the case] if it could [travel] into space.

 

B

The generalized phrasing also corrects the minor mistake both suffer, along with ManfromIndia. They all state or imply that the second clause in this construction must have the same subject as the first. That is not the case:

Russia will have less grain than [would be the case] if Mao had instituted a pay-what-you-can-afford policy for the Chinese peasantry.

An hour in the Ukraine still gives you more radioactive exposure than [would be the case] if you fell into a vat of bananas.

Germany declaring war on the US and USSR in succession was more foolish than [would be the case] if a drunk Superman picked a fight with Mr Kryptonite in the Kryptonite Bar at the Kryptonite Outlet Mall in central Kryptoniteland.

 

C

That said, Trowauo is still right for the wrong reason. The original sentence is terrible, but not because of the structure. It's terrible because it's in the wrong tense.

Russia will have less grain than if Stalin had not insisted upon the adoption of Lysenko's theories.

implies that Russia has been holding steady so far but is in for worse harvests soon because of Stalin's mistaken agricultural priorities. That's obviously nonsense. Unless you're reading some analysis written by OSS operatives, what was intended should have been either

Russia had less grain than if Stalin had not insisted upon the adoption of Lysenko's theories.

if the problem has already been corrected or

Russia has had less grain than if Stalin had not insisted upon the adoption of Lysenko's theories.

if the problem still hasn't been fixed.

Russia would have produced more grain if Stalin had not insisted upon the adoption of Lysenko's theories.

is clearer grammatically, even though less clear as to the present status of Russian grain production.

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