Was he imagining it, or were Snape's eyes flickering towards Lupin more often than was natural?

As I understand, the sentence is saying: were Snape's eyes flickering towards Lupin more often than Snape's eyes were natural. That's why I might think 'were' should be used in the original sentence, because "Snape's eyes" is plural. But I'm not sure if my understanding is correct. How should we understand the sentence?

  • .....more often than (it) was natural.
    – user29952
    Nov 18, 2018 at 7:40
  • @user070221, what's 'it' referring to?
    – dan
    Nov 18, 2018 at 7:41
  • 2
    See: dictionary.cambridge.org/it/grammatica/grammatica-britannico/… - the subject is the flickering of the eyes (singular) not the eyes (plural).
    – user29952
    Nov 18, 2018 at 7:44
  • @user070221, Is it also ok to say: ...more often than natural or more often than were natural?
    – dan
    Nov 18, 2018 at 7:48
  • @dan No, neither would be natural. (The first would be if the sentence were rephrased.) The action is a singular subject. Nov 18, 2018 at 9:24

1 Answer 1


Which would it be in these sentences?

Were the motorists driving faster than (was | were) necessary?

Why were those a-holes getting closer to his tail than (was | were) safe at this speed?

The subject of the clause in question is the verb of comparative verb phrase:

driving faster than .?. necessary

getting closer to his tail than .?. safe

flickering ... more often than .?. natural

So it is the (singular) action represented by that verb which agrees in number with the verb in the comparative; since the statement is made in the past tense it would be was:

driving faster than was necessary

getting closer to his tail than was safe

flickering more often than was natural

P.S. That we can say "faster than necessary" but not "closer than safe" is a bit of a mystery to me this morning, but I'm only on my first cup.

  • Thanks, good morning! As a side: what do you mean by "I'm only on my first cup"? Is it a first cup of tea or coffee or something?
    – dan
    Nov 18, 2018 at 11:31
  • Is it also correct to add an 'it' in the middle: getting closer to his tail than it was safe, driving faster than was necessary, etc...?
    – dan
    Nov 18, 2018 at 11:39
  • 1
    Good morning. Today it happens to be tea. Often it's coffee. Yes, you can insert a dummy subject "it" there, especially if you wanted to add an infinitive complement, "driving closer than it was safe to drive".
    – TimR
    Nov 18, 2018 at 11:54
  • 1
    Adjectives are complex creatures.
    – TimR
    Nov 18, 2018 at 11:58

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