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I am a Japanese and studying English again to be a teacher of English. However, since I am not a native English speaker, I don't have any "intuition" to judge whether these sentences sound natural or not. English phrases and words we learn for the exam to get into universities in Japan are often quite unnatural.

I would like to know whether these sentences sound natural to you. Or do you see any difference in their meanings?

  1. "The boy is more shy than timid"

  2. "The boy is shy rather than timid"

  3. "The boy is not so much shy as timid"

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  • All three sentences could be natural if spoken in context. However, I hope you will have a look at the editing of your question (click here). This may help you to understand the errors in your original post! Jun 14, 2017 at 1:34
  • Wow... Thank you so much! I seriously have to be careful about punctuations. Thanks again for pointing those out. It helps me a lot!!
    – Kyozy
    Jun 14, 2017 at 1:39
  • In case it's not obvious to you, the first two sentences place the stress on shy while the last places it on timid, and thus the last one's meaning opposite of the first two. Those are the only real differences I see.
    – Robusto
    Jun 14, 2017 at 1:57

2 Answers 2

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They are all perfectly natural. The first two sentences mean that "shy" is a better word to describe the boy than "timid" is, and the third sentence means the opposite.


  1. The boy is more shy than timid.

First possible nuance: Someone else has described the boy as timid, and the speaker is correcting them. They might be saying: "Timid isn't really the right word for this boy. It's more a question of shyness." Of course, "timid" still more or less applies, it's just not the best way to describe this boy.

Second possible nuance: Someone is weighing the boy's two qualities, shyness and timidity. They decide that he has more shyness. This is unlikely, because the two words are so close to being synonyms that such a comparison seems laughable. I think it's worth mentioning this nuance, though, because this construction could easily mean that with different adjectives. (For example: "The boy is more content than discontent in general.")


  1. The boy is shy rather than timid.

The same as the first nuance for (1), except this is more forceful. It doesn't concede that the word "timid" applies to the boy at all, but insists that "shy" is how he ought to be described.


  1. The boy is not so much shy as timid.

The same as the first nuance for (1), and about the same level of forcefulness vs. concession. For this reason, make sure not to confuse this with the second nuance for (1); it's not meant to make a comparison, but to correct someone's word choice.

However, as noted above, if you want the literal meaning to be the same as the others, it should be:

The boy is not so much timid as shy.

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  • Wow, thank you so much for explaining for such details! The difference you mentioned on 1, and 2, is eye-opening fact for me. I think if I use these kinds of phrases, I would like to show the 1st nuance in most cases. Thanks again for your advice!
    – Kyozy
    Jun 14, 2017 at 14:45
  • 1
    To be clear, #3 (as written) is the opposite meaning of #1 -- the speaker is saying the boy is timid not shy. The structure "more A than B" is the same as "not so much B as A".
    – Andrew
    Jun 14, 2017 at 14:56
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"The boy is more shy than timid"
"The boy is shy rather than timid"

have essentially the same meaning that the boy favors being "shy"

"The boy is not so much shy as timid"

has the opposite meaning

"The boy is not so much timid as shy"

would have the same meaning as your first two sentences.

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  • Thank you so much for your answer! I learned that they all are almost the same in their meanings. Thanks again!!
    – Kyozy
    Jun 14, 2017 at 14:43

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