Typically, we compare two entities of the same sort, so that we say "John's hat is bigger than Peter's," not "John's hat is bigger than Peter" unless, of course, we are deliberately comparing a person's size with an object's.

But I saw the following sentence in a dictionary. Is it natural and correct?

The quality of pork is often less variable than beef.

  • “than beef” refers to the quality of beef. – user070221 Sep 14 at 11:01
  • But it seems to violate the principle of comparison. Why? – Apollyon Sep 14 at 11:03
  • It is implicit, understood that beef, in the sentence, refers to “the quality of beef”. Expecially in speaking you tend to shorten sentences. It is a colloquial usage. – user070221 Sep 14 at 11:05
  • Does it make sense to say "John's hat is bigger than Peter" then? – Apollyon Sep 14 at 11:08
  • I am not saying that it is grammatically correct, but is it colloquially used. If you are talking to a friend and he tells you “my hat is bigger than Peter” what would you understand? – user070221 Sep 14 at 11:13

It does violate the "rule" where like should be compared with like.

Similar violations:

The fuel efficiency of the 2019 model is 20% better than the 2018 model.

The height of the architect's new skyscraper is fifteen storeys more than his last building.

Speakers frequently leave out that of. The phrase that of is in a rather formal register. The percentage of speakers who actually use it in conversation is quite small. To the extent that a huge percentage of speakers commit this "error", and yet their meaning is perfectly well understood, we should probably classify this as a stylistic goof, not as ungrammatical. It's natural but potentially unclear.

You're not likely to encounter this "violation" in sentences as simple as:

John's hat is bigger than Peter

because it's easy to say "Peter's".

John's hat is bigger than Peter's.

The behavior arises when using phrases like "the height of the new skyscraper" or "the fuel efficiency of the 2019 model" as grammatical subject; such noun phrases are rather more complicated than "John's hat". By the time the speaker reaches the complement of than, the speaker may have lost track of the grammatical subject if it is a phrase of that nature.

  • Nice answer, the only point I don’t agree with is that it is a case of violation of the rule. There is no violation as the intended meaning is clear. People don’t speak like a book. It is just st s colloquial usage. – user070221 Sep 14 at 13:44
  • @user070221: That's pretty much what I've said. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Sep 14 at 14:08
  • @Could "beef'" be used plus an apostrophe instead of "beef" alone? – Apollyon Sep 16 at 4:48

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