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Here is an English grammar question from a certain English learning material I bought at the book store.

I am very confused over this.

It is said there is only one answer from the five sentences, however, I think there is no answer. All the sentences below seem grammatically fine to me.

I hope you would carefully check it out and tell me what the answer is and why, please.

Q. Choose the wrong sentence in the following sentences.

  1. Deep-sea habitats are as varied as those on land.
  2. Writing a novel is two times as difficult as I think.
  3. He looks three times as happy as I had seen.
  4. I love her as much as you.
  5. Several excuses are always less convincing than one.

Thank you for reading. Take care of yourself.

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  • @CopperKettle Why delete your answer? I can't upvote or agree with it while it is "deleted". By the way, I agree with you in that #3 was the one that struck me as being the worst one in the list. :) – F.E. Dec 16 '14 at 16:02
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    Is there an explanation in the book? Most books should have one. Anyway, #3 is not grammatical. I cannot tell you why, else I would write an answer. However, all the rest, including #2 are grammatical. For a check, write each sentence as a question. In the case of Number 2: Is writing a novel two times as difficult as I think? You can also answer the question: No, writing a novel is not two times as difficult as I think. – user6951 Dec 18 '14 at 19:41
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My guess is that sentence 3 might not be right:

  1. He looks three times as happy as I had seen.

It uses the Past Perfect but there's no another past-time reference in the sentence. And probably it is wrong to end the sentence so abruptly, making no explicit comparison.

I would transform it thus:

He looked three times as happy as I had seen him look before.

Now we have a "Past Simple - Past Perfect" sentence comparing a person's past condition with his condition in an earlier past, and a more explicit comparison clause.

Note: I'm a non-native speaker, so it's only a guess. I might be wrong.

I googled in books for "as I had seen", and found a sentence with a comparable structure:

Auntie Lolo was as beautiful as I had seen her in my vision, and I remembered that..

The same sequence of tenses: Past Simple - Past Perfect.

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  • I believe you are incorrect actually - the other time reference in 3. is actually the present (implied by verb tense of look) and the past perfect is appropriate. It is an abrupt ending, but it is none-the-less idiomatic and grammatically correct. – bruised reed Dec 16 '14 at 8:25
  • @bruisedreed - thank you for the comment! I thought that the Past Perfect is only okay when the other time reference is also in the past. But I could be incorrect. It was an interesting question to think upon. I'll keep my answer for some time, then scrap it if it gets downvoted. – CowperKettle Dec 16 '14 at 8:30
  • I don't claim to be an expert (I'm just a native speaker who volunteers to help ELS learners, I haven't studied English at University or anything like that), but I believe past perfect can even be employed in the context of talking about future events - eg. "What you don't want is to find yourself next week thinking 'If only I had studied harder.'" – bruised reed Dec 16 '14 at 8:40
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    I can't argue with your analysis, but I don't quite understand how it actually legitimizes your previous statement that "the past perfect is only okay when the other time reference is also in the past." I believe sentence 3. becomes a well-formed sentence as it originally was merely by the addition of the adverb 'previously'. As this is idiomatically implied, the sentence should be considered legitimate. Anyways I'm done - I respect your ability to argue your case well even if I don't agree with it :) – bruised reed Dec 16 '14 at 9:05
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    The options #1, #5 seem to be fine to me, and #4 seems probably okay, maybe. (Option #4 might be similar to the textbook ambiguous thingie, where perhaps it would be preferable to put the "do" in it, e.g. "I love her as much as you do." But the original #4 is not as bad as #3, imo.) It took me a while, but I was able to convince myself that option #2 might possibly be feasible in an appropriate context: "Writing a novel is two times as difficult as I think. That's what my parents keep telling me." And so, I was left with #3 as being the worst of the bunch. :) – F.E. Dec 16 '14 at 16:37
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Q. Choose the wrong sentence in the following sentences.

  1. Deep-sea habitats are as varied as those on land.
  2. Writing a novel is two times as difficult as I think.
  3. He looks three times as happy as I had seen.
  4. I love her as much as you.
  5. Several excuses are always less convincing than one.

I think option #3, "He looks three times as happy as I had seen", is probably, or should be, the "wrong sentence".

For it seems to be missing the 2nd time reference point in its comparison of when he looked happy. The other four options appear to be fine.


LONG VERSION: Here I'll go and explain a bit more why the individual options seem to be okay or not.

Option #1. Deep-sea habitats are as varied as those on land.

This appears to be fine. Two terms are being compared: "the variety of deep-sea habitats" versus "the variety of land habitats".

Option #2. Writing a novel is two times as difficult as I think.

This appears to be fine. Two terms are being compared: "the (actual) difficulty in writing a novel" versus "the difficulty that I think it takes to write a novel".

A possible context:

  • If I was a young writer, I might think that I ought to be able to easily write a sci-fi novel in a year, but my parents might shake their heads in disagreement and say that that would take two years at least. And so, when I talk to a friend about this, I might say to that friend, "Writing a novel is two times as difficult as I think. That's what my parents keep telling me."

As a standalone sentence, option #2's sentence works too: the actual writing of a novel is X difficult, and I think writing a novel is Y difficult, and X is equal to 2Y.

Option #3. He looks three times as happy as I had seen.

This one seems to be malformed. And it seems to be the most awkward of all the options in the list.

Its problem seems to be that it doesn't mention within the second term (the comparative clause) a 2nd time that is being compared against. The 1st time that is being used in the comparison could be now, as in "He now looks happy", but there is no 2nd time of when he looked happy which could be used in the comparison. That is, in other words: He now (at time #1) looks X happy, and he used to (at time #2) look Y happy, and X is equal to 3Y -- but there is no mentioning of when that time #2 was.

Option #3's sentence could be tweaked into something that could work, such as "He looks three times as happy as when I had seen him last."

Option #4. I love her as much as you.

This appears to be fine, but perhaps it could be ambiguous as to how it should be interpreted, and context will probably disambiguate it. It could possibly be interpreted in two ways. One (1st) interpretation is,

  1. I love her as much as you do.

where the two terms are: "I love her" vs "You love her". Another possible (2nd) interpretation is,

  1. I love her as much as I love you.

where the two terms are: "I love her" vs "I love you". This 2nd interpretation of option #4 is structured similar to,

  • "I love cookies as much as cupcakes."

Aside: Sometimes comparative constructions can be full of ambiguity, e.g. "She phoned Angela more often than Liz", which can be interpreted with the 2nd term being either "she phoned Liz" or as "Liz phoned her". (Example borrowed from CGEL page 1112, [20.v])

Option #5. Several excuses are always less convincing than one.

This appears to be fine. Two terms are being compared: "the convincing power of several excuses" versus "the convincing power of one excuse".

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    I think this has to do with what material is elipted in each case. Essentially, the same auxiliary verb (maybe different persons etc, even different tenses, but the same verb) and the same complements (including further verbs) need to be used in each case unless they are specified, it seems to me. In (3) the auxiliaries are different, and we don't automatically reconstruct the sentence well. The verbs are different too (look and see). – Araucaria - Not here any more. Dec 17 '14 at 23:30
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    @Araucaria I also think a big problem is that we don't know what the 2nd term is for comparison: is it a 2nd time event, or is it the set of all time events in the past. That is, is what is missing the word "last" (or something similar) or the word "ever"; e.g. "He looks three times as happy as (when) I had last seen him", or "He looks (at least) three times as happy as I had ever seen him". That's what I'm currently seeing it as; and as you pointed out, having different verbs in there doesn't help the situation, either. :) – F.E. Dec 17 '14 at 23:46
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    I'm still wondering... I think your solutions to #3 allow look to be reintroduced:*as [he looked] when I last saw him* or as I had ever seen him [look]. Not sure... Very interesting question... – Araucaria - Not here any more. Dec 18 '14 at 0:40
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    It may have to with that you must explicitly state the object of see if you say see. – user6951 Dec 18 '14 at 19:44
  • @F.E. Have been, erm glomming, as recommended. Fancy casting a beady eye? – Araucaria - Not here any more. Dec 22 '14 at 16:36
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  1. Is incorrect - using the incorrect tense for think makes this statement internally inconsistent (ie. a contradiction). It should read:
  1. Writing a novel is twice as difficult as I had thought.
  1. & 4. (and arguably 5.) are not well-formed sentences semantically, but I would not go as far as to say that they are not grammatical.
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  • I know that you are not required to do so, but I would greatly appreciate that if you are going to down-vote that you kindly explain why. – bruised reed Dec 16 '14 at 8:20
  • It seems that I was wrong after all. (0: – CowperKettle Dec 16 '14 at 16:02
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    @CopperKettle Did Snailboa say that the sentence 3 was okay? Where can I find the "chat printouts"? How do you know that the native speakers voted for the answer of bruised reed and voted against your answer? What if Native speakers of Hindi voted for the answer of bruised reed? :) – user11470 Dec 16 '14 at 17:32
  • @Humbulani - chat transcripts are here. – CowperKettle Dec 16 '14 at 17:36
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    Of course, I disagree. Turn the sentence into a question: Is writing a novel two times as difficult as I think? That is fine. You can also answer the question: No, writing a novel is not two times as difficult as I think. – user6951 Dec 18 '14 at 19:48

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