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Only bubbles flew out of his mouth, but he had the distinct impression that the mermen had understood him, because they suddenly stopped laughing. Their yellowish eyes were fixed upon Harry's wand, and they looked scared. There might be a lot more of them than there were of him, but Harry could tell, by the looks on their faces, that they knew no more magic than the giant squid did.

I don't understand the meaning of "There might be a lot more of them than there were of him" in this context. What does it mean exactly?

From Harry Potter

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    There was only one Harry Potter. There were a lot of mermen. "A lot" is more then "one". J.K. Rowling is being somewhat humorous here. Dec 24, 2018 at 12:34
  • @PeterShor, "being somewhat humorous" makes a lot more sense! Originally, I just can't make it sensible in this context. Thanks!
    – dan
    Dec 24, 2018 at 12:42

2 Answers 2

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At first glance the phrase "there might be a lot more of them than there were of him" might seem a bit strange, because, of course, there is only one of any individual person. However, the phrase would normally be used when there are multiple people on each side. So, for example, if Harry had been swimming with his friends Ron and Hermione, and they encountered the merpeople, you might say "there were more of them [merpeople] than there were of them [Harry and friends]. In the book here, the phrase is simply being applied to a singular noun ("him") instead of a plural noun ("them") so it sounds a bit awkward.

The sentence as a whole is actually conveying the idea that Harry had the advantage in this case, despite the fact that he was outnumbered. If you recall from earlier in the chapter, the merpeople had been preventing Harry from releasing the other hostages. They had physically overpowered him because they outnumbered him. But at this point in the narrative the situation has changed because Harry took out his wand. The sentence is telling us that because Harry was going to resort to magic, both he and the merpeople realized that Harry now had the advantage. This is due to the fact that even though Harry was vastly outnumbered, he had magic at his disposal while the merpeople did not. As is shown in the ensuing paragraphs, the merpeople are now sufficiently scared of Harry that they scatter out of his way and allow him to rescue the remaining hostage in addition to his own hostage. (Contrary to the other answer, this is saying that Harry alone had the advantage over all the merpeople combined, rather than just over an individual merperson.)

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  • Does it have somewhat humorous effect as the comment above suggested?
    – dan
    Dec 25, 2018 at 3:26
  • @dan That probably depends on whether you find it humorous to refer to an individual person with the phrase "more of him". I don't think you would be missing anything from the sentence if you didn't find it particularly humorous.
    – Alex
    Dec 25, 2018 at 3:29
  • Got you. I'm just trying to find out why the author put it this way and what she intended to convey here.
    – dan
    Dec 25, 2018 at 3:34
  • @dan She intended to convey that Harry was just one person against a lot of people, but he still had the advantage because he had magic.
    – Alex
    Dec 25, 2018 at 3:35
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This means that there are more "Mermens" than there were of Harry. Not just a bit more but a "lot more".

Harry was more powerful than 1 person but the "Mermens" still outnumbered him.

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  • Thanks, but what does "there were of Harry" mean? The use of 'of' confuses me.
    – dan
    Dec 24, 2018 at 12:20
  • Basically it means that the number of Mermens is bigger than the number of Harrys'
    – user109564
    Dec 24, 2018 at 12:22
  • How could it make any sense in this context then?
    – dan
    Dec 24, 2018 at 12:24
  • @dan Harry is more powerful than 1 person but still the Mermens outnumbered him
    – user109564
    Dec 24, 2018 at 12:27
  • Hmmm... I guess it might be related to the previous sentence "they looked scared"? So, "There might be a lot more of them than there were of him" means they scared a lot more than Harry. Does it sound reasonable?
    – dan
    Dec 24, 2018 at 12:32

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