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I just heard the following expression.

I knew him better than most people.

And suddenly, it hit me that I can't discriminate between the following interpretations.

I knew him better than how well I knew most people. The other people being less familiar to me than what he is.

I knew him better than how well most of the other people knew him. The other people being less familiar with him than me.

The first one describes the relation between me and him compared to me and others. The second one described the relation between me and other people compared to him and other people.

Which one is the correct interpretation? Or is it ambiguous and one has to relate on the context to make an assessment?

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The ambiguity comes from the ellipsis (omission of words). The two versions could be

I knew him better than most people [did].

I knew him better than [I know] most people.

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This is a conventional sentence that would normally be understood to mean, "I knew him better than most people know him."

But yes, by strict grammar rules, it is ambiguous. Use similar wording that is NOT a commonly-used sentence and it would be ambiguous. Like, "Lions attack zebra more than other animals".

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