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“An orange is more more delicious than an apple than grapes.”

Delicacy level

Orange: 10 Apple: 5 Grapes: 3 An orange is 5 degrees more delicious than an apple. (10-5=5) An orange is 2 degrees more 5 degrees more delicious than an apple than grapes. (10-5=5>3)

Normally, why don’t we say “an orange is [more [more delicious than an apple] than grapes]” not only in English but also in my native language even though it seems it’s an obvious fact? Is there a logical error?

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  • Please tell me what’s the problem with the post before giving the post a downvote.
    – Gabriel
    Commented Mar 30, 2022 at 12:38
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    Your sentence under observation has syntax errors ever before we get to logic errors. Commented Mar 30, 2022 at 13:19
  • @Andreas ZUERCHER Where are the syntax errors?
    – Gabriel
    Commented Mar 30, 2022 at 13:25
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    Not all adjectives are gradable. A fortiori, not all adjectival phrases are gradable. It is far from clear that an adjectival expression of the form more X than Y is gradable in any reasonable sense.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Mar 30, 2022 at 14:24
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    It seems to me there is a logical error, yes. The statement “A is more X than B” implies that both A and B are X. In your case, that means “Oranges are more X than grapes”, where oranges and grapes are both X. If X = ‘more delicious than apples’, that means ‘grapes are more delicious than apples, but oranges are [more delicious than apples] to a higher degree’. This is meaningful enough, but it’s a different scale than the one you give. It entails oranges > grapes > apples, not (as your scale has it) oranges > apples > grapes. Commented Mar 30, 2022 at 17:03

1 Answer 1

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Welcome to the site!

I think the key sentence in your question would be better stated as "*An orange is more delicious than an apple is more delicious than grapes." The question is apparently why we cannot stack or embed comparatives in English or other languages.

If I analyze the key sentence as A is more X than B and understand that B itself is supposed to have the same structure ((B is more X) than (C)), we can group the clauses as "*(An orange is more delicious) than ((an apple) is more delicious than (grapes))." One thing that immediately emerges is that A, B, and C do not have the same structure. A ("an orange is more delicious") and B (("an apple is more delicious (than grapes)") are full clauses and C ("grapes") is just a noun. I think the essence of a comparison is that we need to have parallel notional structures to have a valid comparison.

I think the status of "than" in English is somewhat problematic, because in it a sentence like "An orange is more delicious than an apple," it appears to be a preposition; whereas in a sentence like "An orange is more delicious than an apple is delicious," it appears to be a conjunctive adverb with the same meaning. This complicates what form of pronoun should theoretically be appropriate as its complement in a sentence like "he is taller than me/I (am)." Under the theory that it is a preposition, we should say, for instance, "than me." Under the theory that is a conjunctive adverb, we should say "than I," with an ellipse of the rest of the statement.

In my proposed sentence, we can compare either the full statements or the actual fruit, but not both at the same time.

To remedy the problem of unequal structures, we could propose a new sentence like "*An orange is more delicious than an apple is more delicious than grapes are delicious." But this also has a problem. We can analyze it as "A is more than B is more than C" giving us three equal entities to compare, when what we need is something nested.

I would propose "(?) An orange is more delicious in its way than an apple is more delicious than grapes." I think this sentence is semantically, but not pragmatically, acceptable because it pulls the statement about oranges into a higher level of the hierarchy. I would roughly map it as: "(?) (An orange is more delicious in its way than ((an apple) is more delicious than (grapes)))."

Outside of English and languages that have similar comparative structures, we find many languages that use a simple adjective paired with some statement that says that A exceed B in that respect. I think for these languages, the same analysis I put forward above would hold. You have to find some way of syntactically and semantically nesting the statements, rather than simply chaining them.

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  • Your rephrasing isn’t saying the same thing, though. You’re (literally, for once) comparing apples and oranges – that is, you’re comparing [the degree to which an orange is more delicious than an apple] to [the degree to which an apple is more delicious than a grape]. What the sentence in the question does is compare [the degree to which an orange is more delicious than a grape] to [the degree to which an orange is more delicious than an apple]. In other words, with the 10/5/3 scheme, you’re comparing 5 to 2, whereas the question is comparing 7 to 5 (albeit with flawed logic). Commented Mar 30, 2022 at 17:07

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