At the same time, operators of the first printing presses run by steam rather than by hand found it possible to produce a thousand pages in an hour rather than thirty.

from TOFEL TPO 06

I have two explanations:

  1. ...it possible to produce a thousand pages rather than thirty pages in an hour.
  2. ...it possible to produce a thousand pages in an hour rather than thirty hours.

Google tells me the first explanation is right, but why?

How can I distinguish it in general context?


1 Answer 1


The first is what I first thought it meant. I think that's the natural interpretation for a native speaker.

When I read the sentence carefully I understood your question. In fact, either meaning is defensible. The sentence is ambiguous.

I can't cite a grammatical reason for preferring one to the other.

I don't think it's a fair TOEFL question.

By coincidence, both readings say about the same thing since 30 times 30 is close to 1000.

  • 2
    I agree with your answer. If meaning 2 were intended, though, I think it would more likely be said "a thousand pages in one hour rather than thirty.", to emphasize that it is hours being compared rather than pages. Apr 10, 2022 at 18:10

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