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A post says

With more board configurations than there are atoms in the universe, the ancient Chinese game of Go has long been considered a grand challenge for artificial intelligence.

I understand the 2nd part of the sentence. How about the first part?

I also understand the number of board configurations of the game of Go is more than the number of atoms in the universe.

I don't understand is why "there are ..." could be the object of "than". Could someone please give a hint about the rules/conventions of it? Thanks in advance.

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  • It is just a wordy way to say "There are more board configurations in Go than there are atoms in the universe." the structure "more ... than" is standard in comparisons, and "than" is a conjunction, which introduces a clause or phrase rather than a preposition that takes an object. May 27, 2020 at 23:56
  • @JeffMorrow Thank you. In this particular case, is "there are atoms in the universe" a clause?
    – WXJ96163
    May 28, 2020 at 2:25
  • "With more configurations than the atoms (that are) in the universe." This is another way of presenting it, but without "(that are)" these are just two phrases joined by 'than'. In the original post "With more board configurations than there are atoms in the universe", the parts after than look like needing a bit of refinement.
    – Ram Pillai
    May 28, 2020 at 2:47
  • @RamPillai Your version is much clearer. Thank you. Which one is more common, with or without "that are"?
    – WXJ96163
    May 28, 2020 at 3:09
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    If I were, I would say, "...with more board configurations than the atoms in the universe."
    – Ram Pillai
    May 28, 2020 at 5:04

1 Answer 1

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"Than" can function both as a prepostion

She is taller than me.

Or it can function as a conjunction

She is taller than I am.

These two sentences mean the same. The subordinate clause is usually reduced, since much of it is implied by the main clause. It is pretty common for functional words in English to be both conjunctions and prepositions, depending on how they are used.

In your example the clause "there are atoms in the universe" is the clause that is giving the basis of the comparison. This is understood with reference to the main part "More board configurations" to indicate we are comparing the number of things.

You could rephrase with a prepositional "than"

With more board configurations than the number of atoms in the universe,...

This whole "More X than Y" is then a adjunct to the rest of the sentence. "With..." is another preposition/conjunction

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