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I am reading an e-book named In Cold Blood written by Truman Capote, in which I read a sentence as:

...the person he had wished to marry——the sister of a college classmate, a...girl named Bonnie Fox, who was three years younger than he.

I am doubting about the correctness of that expression "was younger than he", In my mind, it should be "was younger than him".

Is "She was younger than he" (and like "She is older than I")a grammatically correct expression?

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The quote is grammatically correct when than is considered a conjunction. This is an example of ellipsis (not to be confused with the punctuation mark), the omission of words that are grammatically required, but can be inferred, and are thus omitted. Fully expressed, the quote would read

a girl who was three years younger than he was [young].

(I bracket the young as no native speaker would ever voice it.)

As such, he is the subject of the subordinate clause he was [young], and takes the nominative case.


Now, there are others who would argue that than is not a conjunction linking an elided clause, but a preposition. Thus, him is appropriate as the object of the preposition. I would say that this is the more prevalent usage in conversational English.

For a more complete treatment, see the Grammar Girl blog post on “Than I” Versus “Than Me” and a discussion on the same topic at EL&U.

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And therein lies the rub... Reading older books or text and assuming that the language used at the time should fall in line with modern rules or accepted practices will drive one crazy. At the time when this book was written there was this idea among the educated that you should follow grammar principles and rules to the letter and an implied verb would make than a conjunction. These days we don't often think of than as a conjunction, and you'll never hear people in the United States speak this way. Typically when people use double subject or double object pronouns in a sentence they are making an attempt at sounding intelligent and they just come off sounding pretentious (even if they use them correctly).

A great example would be to read a book like The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

And if you are planning on doing some writing yourself just remember that it is best to keep the messages in the narration clear and add things like this to the pretentious characters to really bother readers.

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    "Never hear people in the United States speak this way", really? I find that assertion dubious; it might be rare, but I don't think it's unheard of even now. – Nathan Tuggy Feb 5 '16 at 0:42
  • It's not unheard of, but it's definitely markedly formal. – snailcar Mar 12 '16 at 2:19

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