I'd like to know whether the following sentences are interchangeable.

1)I am better at English than I am at Spanish

2)I am better at English than at Spanish

3)I am better at English than Spanish

Is it grammatically okay to omit the "I am" that comes after "than" from sentence 1 ?


All three sentences mean the same thing. You are correct that the third sounds informal, but that is not a correctness issue. And your second sentence does sound a little strange because most people would leave out at if they're already leaving out I am.

The reason for your concern is that shortening some sentences can allow ambiguity (which is not the case in your examples). Consider the following sentence:

I like Jane more than Mary.

Does that sentence mean I like Jane more than I like Mary? Or does it mean I like Jane more than Mary likes Jane?

It is unclear without the additional words.

Now, consider the following:

I like peas more than carrots.

In this sentence, it is clear that I prefer peas to carrots. It is impossible for the sentence to mean I like peas more than carrots like peas, because it is well-known that carrots are incapable of liking peas.

Your example is more like the peas and carrots sentence than the Jane and Mary one. After all, Spanish is not capable of being better at English than you are.

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Two "I am"s in a sentence is redundancy, where one can be omited. Since the sentence requires one subject, the only omitable one is the second one.

The first two sentences are thus interchangable.

The third one is somewhat unclear in meaning: Getting better at is a common idiom, which always uses an at in these cases - violates the requirement of the idiom's second at, but is valid nonetheless.

I, personally, would avoid the third one, just in case.

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    You're right that the first two sentences are equivalent. But in fact, all three mean the same thing. I don't know what you think is unclear about the third. (Just as I don't know why the OP thinks the third is "informal.") What does "getting better at" have to do with the question? How can you violate a grammatical requirement but still have a valid sentence? Elision is at work in the second sentence, but that's not always permitted. It's not clear to me that elision applies to the third sentence. – deadrat Mar 5 '16 at 22:04
  • Informal probably isn't the phrase to go with, nor is unclear. It leaves a tingling sensation after itself, and violates the idiom. Not the grammar, just how the idiom is used structurally. – Sakatox Mar 6 '16 at 0:03

Sentence 2 sounds awkward to me. I think "at Spanish" needs a subject and a verb in front of it to be grammatically correct... I think. Eek. (Sentence 3, however, is okay without "I am" because "at" has also been omitted.) But yes, all three sentences are interchangeable!

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    No, elision works in Sentence 2, although it won't always work in comparison clauses. – deadrat Mar 5 '16 at 22:06

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