1

Consider the following examples:

  1. Mary is no richer than Jane.

  2. I am sure the book is unpleasant. But it is not all unpleasant and I am sure is no more unpleasant than the real inner lives of some of our best Oak Park families.

  3. Second-hand smoke is no more harmful than bad diet, industrial pollution or stress.

  4. This may be harmful, but at worst it is no more harmful than outright expression of his anger.

The former two could be paraphrased:

Mary is not rich, just as Jane is not.

The book is not unpleasant, just as the real inner lives of some of our best Oak Park families are not.

While the latter two could only be paraphrased:

Second-hand smoke is at least as harmful as bad diet, industrial pollution or stress.

At worst it is just as harmful as outright expression of his anger.

It seems every language has a number of sentence patterns which can convey two opposite meaning.

The question is: can the "no more + adjective + than" construction always be used in either way? Or, it works only for a limited number of adjectives?

1

I think you are misunderstanding the implications of the first two sentences; these all use the "not Xer than" construction in the same way.

The construction is typically used to diminish the force of a prior attribution of some quality (often a negative quality) X to a subject A by pointing to another subject B which possesses X in the same or greater degree.

  1. Mary is no richer than Jane.

You say Mary is rich; I respond by pointing to Jane, who is at least as rich as Mary, and probably richer.

  1. I am sure the book is unpleasant. But it is not all unpleasant and I am sure is no more unpleasant than the real inner lives of some of our best Oak Park families.

You say the book is unpleasant; I respond by pointing to the real inner lives of suburbanites, which are at least as unpleasant as [the inner lives depicted in] the book, and probably more unpleasant.

  1. Second-hand smoke is no more harmful than bad diet, industrial pollution or stress.

You say that second-hand smoke is harmful; I respond by pointing to bad diet, pollution and stress, which are at least as harmful as second-hand smoke, and probably more harmful.

  1. This may be harmful, but at worst it is no more harmful than outright expression of his anger.

You say this [?sullenness?] is harmful; I respond by pointing to outright expression of his anger, which is at least as harmful as this, and probably more harmful.

  • So there is little difference between "Mary is no richer than Jane." and "Mary is not richer than Jane."? – Kinzle B Dec 13 '15 at 15:28
  • @KinzleB They both express an upper limit on Mary's wealth, but not richer than in contemporary use will ordinarily be used to deny explicitly an assertion that Mary is richer than Jane while no richer than will be used in an effort to assess or estimate Mary's wealth. – StoneyB Dec 13 '15 at 16:04
  • I see. It's a contextual difference. Does "Mary is no richer than Jane." always connotate Mary is rich? Or, it's just a implicature that can be canceled? – Kinzle B Dec 13 '15 at 16:12
  • 1
    @KinzleB It may be said in the context of someone's assertion that Mary is rich, but in that case it basically calls into question the standard of "rich" which the other person uses. "You say Mary's rich? Well, would you call Jane rich? Because Mary's no richer than Jane, so if Jane isn't rich then Mary isn't either." – StoneyB Dec 13 '15 at 16:18

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.