(Awkward?) Comparative Structure

englishelp

Senior Member
Chinese
Hi,

This sentence is from the latest issue of The Economist. The article talks about fertility and living standards:


Yet another (study) found that more African women say they want to use contraceptives but cannot get them (25m) than actually use them (18m).
I found it difficult to understand this sentence in terms of finding out what is being compared.

I concluded that the sentence is trying to say: "The number of African women who say they want to use contraceptives but cannot get them (25m) is larger than the number of African women who actually use contraceptives (18m)"

Two questions:
1) Is my understanding correct?
2) Do you find the original sentence awkward in the sense that it makes it difficult for the the reader to easily ascertain what are being compared?
 
  • Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Yet another (study) found that more African women say they want to use contraceptives but cannot get them (25m) than actually use them (18m). Yet another (study) found that more African women say they want to use contraceptives but cannot get them (25m) than actually use them (18m).

    I think a comma before than helps a little, thus:

    "One study found this, and another found that." Yet another found that more African women say they want to use contraceptives but cannot get them (25m), than actually use them (18m).

    I invented the first sentence, so that the bracketed 'study' could be removed from the one we are considering.

    My reactions were the same as those of Sound Shift. I think you are right in your interpretation, Englishelp, and didn't find the original sentence awkward, though I'd have liked that comma.
     

    Aaar

    Senior Member
    English -USA
    Sorry, my answers are "Yes" and "Yes". A little parallel construction would help the quoted sentence. As written, it compares "say they want" to "actually use".

    Another found that more African women want to use contraceptives but cannot get them (25m), than actually use them (18m).

    still needs work, but the whole article is badly written, so fixing this sentence won't help much.

    I took out "Yet" because only one other study is mentioned. The sentence would be still easier to understand if the 18m came first.

    Another found that while 18m African women use contraceptives, 25m more want to use them, but cannot get them.

    I'm cheating here; I know the next sentence starts out: "Unmet demand...".
     
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    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I take your points, Aaar, but, as doesn't really need underlining, wanting to use them isn't the same as saying you want to use them - how else might one know, you may ask? The point is that the formula in the Economist reflects a more carefully scientific approach than your rewriting suggests. I'm also not sure that the point that more do Y than X comes over well in your while 18m do X, 25m more do Y. There's also the lingering worry that 25m more than 18m means 43m.

    I think your version may be easier to read but if I were the writer of the original I would lament a loss of subtlety and a slight change of emphasis.
     
    Last edited:

    Aaar

    Senior Member
    English -USA
    We're always whining around here about lack of context, so here's the context for this question. Now, Englishelp got halfway through this 2500(?)-word article, written in pseudo-formal, pseudo-scientific English before stumbling on the sentence in question and saying: "Huh?
     

    englishelp

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    Thanks everyone for the input. It's interesting to see that there are some differences in judgments among speakers.
     
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