For context, here's the relevant paragraph

From my chats with low-level IRGC functionaries, I understood there to be a ranking of sorts as to which foreign prisoners fetch the highest price. Complete foreigners are generally more valuable than dual-nationals. Western Europe is better than Eastern Europe is better than Japan. The Chinese whisk their citizens away in a matter of months; detainees from the developing world can expect to serve their sentences in full. Americans and Israelis are the most expensive hostages to extract, and are therefore the most coveted.

Source: The Atlantic: Iran Will Keep Taking Hostages If the Money Keeps Flowing - this is behind a login, unfortunately.

This sentence highlighted in bold seems to me to be a run-on sentence. Is that a typo or maybe some structure that I don't know about?

Particularly, which is better than Japan?

  • @MichaelHarvey That's not a valid reason to close the question. If you think OP needs to quote more of the article in order for it to be clear or explain the context, say that. But people are allowed to ask about any source they want, even if it's (say) a rare book which can only be bought from scalpers on Amazon for $300.
    – Laurel
    Aug 28, 2023 at 11:47
  • 2
    I can't read this article either. It requires a login. However, if you can access the article, then you should quote part of it here in your question. We often need more context to answer questions like this. The sentence is technically not grammatical though, but has probably been worded that way for effect.
    – Billy Kerr
    Aug 28, 2023 at 11:47
  • I've now managed to find the article on an internet archive, and added a quote to your question for context.
    – Billy Kerr
    Aug 28, 2023 at 12:01
  • @MichaelHarvey Sorry, I didn't notice that.
    – ForOU
    Aug 28, 2023 at 12:59
  • 2
    @FumbleFingers this isn't a mistake, it's a standard rhetorical thing you will commonly encounter in writing. Sorry that it doesn't fit into your schema for "What Is English", but it's something anybody learning English will encounter at some point. Many rhetorical devices break standard rules to achieve an effect. A fragment is typically incorrect, but you will commonly encounter them in written and spoken English. Vote to close ell.stackexchange.com/questions/56297/… while you're at it?
    – Kaia
    Aug 28, 2023 at 20:01

2 Answers 2


It’s using what mathematicians call transitivity, as in

3 < 10 < 128.

It means that Western Europe is best, Japan is worst, and Eastern Europe is in between.

Note that this usage is fairly quirky, and not very idiomatic.

  • 2
    Maybe good to note here that it's technically not grammatical, but has likely been worded that way for effect. I think you are correct about it being maths related, since the article does appear to be about the price Iran can extract from foreign governments for prisoners/hostages.
    – Billy Kerr
    Aug 28, 2023 at 12:12

This is an example of asyndeton, the stylistic omission of conjunctions. The standard sentence would be:

Western Europe is better than Eastern Europe, which is better than Japan.

The writer has decided the sentence flows better if "which" is removed.

In general, one should use conjunctions properly, but in some cases a writer might decide to drop a required conjunction or add one that isn't normal (polysyndeton) to change the rhythm or tone of the sentence.

Standard: I need eggs, flour, and cheese.
Asyndeton: I need eggs, flour, cheese.
Polysyndeton: I need eggs and flour and cheese.

Unless you have a good reason, avoid asyndeton and polysyndeton in your own writing. Find more discussion of asyndeton on ELL or on English SE.

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