504 - は~より

This lesson is on a grammar point that caused me a lot of confusion in my early days of studying Japanese:


JLPT N4: は~より (more than)

We use より when we are making comparisons between two things. For example:


花さんより若いです。
はなさん は わたし より わかい です。
Hana-san is younger than me.
Literally: “Hana-san + は + I + より + young + です.”


So we have a formation like this going on:

NOUN#1NOUN#2より... [something].
= NOUN#1 is more [something] than NOUN#2.


Above we had:

花さんより若いです
→ Hana-san + + I + より + young です.
→ → Hana-san is younger than me.


Breaking it down like that doesn't seem all that confusing. I think the problem is that all of the books that I had were not clear on what exactly より meant. Some books and dictionaries said that it meant "more than" and "less than." Others just said it meant "than."

...which was not very helpful when trying to form and deconstruct Japanese sentences.


What if we turn to Japanese dictionaries? Well, I'm not sure they're much more helpful. They say things like...

"より is used to express a standard of comparison."

This does actually make a bit more sense. Specifically, the noun before より is the "standard of comparison," and the other noun (which in our sentences is coming before は) is looked at according to that standard.

For our above sentence, that's a bit like saying...

"As for Hana-san, according to the standard of my age, she is young."

In more normal English, that was just "Hana-san is younger than me."


That doesn't help either?

Well, here's the phrasing that finally cleared this stuff up in my muddled brain:

"X より" means "more than X."

Specifically:

"X より [something]" means "more [something] than X."

Honestly, I have no idea why books claim that より sometimes means both "more than" and "less than." As far as I can tell, より never means "less than" in literal translations.


Here's another example:


今の仕事前の仕事より簡単です。
いま の しごと は まえ の しごと より かんたん です。
My current job is easier than my previous one.
Literally: “now + の + job + は + before + の + job + より + easy + です.”


So NOUN#1 is 今の仕事, "(my) current job."

NOUN#2 is 前の仕事, "(my) previous job."

より comes right after 前の仕事, so we can assume that it means "more [something] than my previous job."

The "[something]" after より is 簡単です, meaning "(is) easy."

So 前の仕事より簡単です is "(is) more easy than my previous job."

In accurate English that becomes: "(is) easier than my previous job."

And the topic of this sentence--the noun that is being held up and compared to the standard of "(my) previous job"--is "(my) current job," so altogether we have:

"My current job is easier than my previous job."

In my translation, I wrote, "My current job is easier than my previous one."

Make sense? If not, maybe reread everything in this lesson so far. Or just nod your head and pretend to understand. That way we can move on...


Formation

You may have already noticed this, but in the specific sentence pattern we're looking at in this lesson, there will always be a NOUN before both and より.

I sort of already explained this earlier when I wrote:

NOUN#1NOUN#2より... [something].
= NOUN#1 is more [something] than NOUN#2.


A couple more examples, and then we'll get into the weird stuff!


地球より大きい。
ちきゅう は つき より おおきい。
The Earth is bigger than the moon.
Literally: “Earth + は + moon + より + big.”


The Earth は the moon より big.
The Earth は more big than the moon.
→ → The Earth is bigger than the moon.


A:
ゾウの寿命、人間の寿命より長いと思いますか。
ゾウ の じゅみょう は にんげん の じゅみょう より ながい と おもいます か。
Do you think that elephants live longer than humans?
Literally: “elephant + の + life span + は, + human + の + life span + より + long + と + think + か.”


B:
いいえ、ゾウの寿命人間の寿命より短いと思います。
いいえ、 ゾウ の じゅみょう は にんげん の じゅみょう より みじかい と おもいます。
No, I think that humans live longer than elephants.
Literally: “no, + elephant + の + life span + は + human + の + life span + より + short + と + think.”


C:
うーん、私はゾウと人間の寿命は同じぐらいだと思います。
うーん、 わたし は ゾウ と にんげん の じゅみょう は おなじ ぐらい だ と おもいます。
Hmm, well I think that elephants and humans’ lives are about the same length.
Literally: “hmm / well, + I + は + elephant + と + human + の + life span + は + same + about + だ + と + think.”


In the above dialogue, notice that the English translations are not very literal.

I didn't want to say things like, "the life spans of elephants are longer [shorter] than the life spans of humans" because it seemed more natural to just say things like "elephants live longer than humans" and "humans live longer than elephants." Perhaps other translators would disagree, though.

As always, just pay attention to the literal breakdowns and compare them to the translations.


Hold on. Let's take another look at this sentence for a moment:


いいえ、ゾウの寿命人間の寿命より短いと思います。
いいえ、 ゾウ の じゅみょう は にんげん の じゅみょう より みじかい と おもいます。
No, I think that humans live longer than elephants.
Literally: “no, + elephant + の + life span + は + human + の + life span + より + short + と + think.”


This, I think, is the kind of sentence where より can get confusing, because we have the Japanese word 短い, "short," coming after より, but the word in our English translation is "longer." Why?!

Well, let's look at this more closely. We have:

"elephants' life spans humans' life spans より short"

If we'd like we can give the quasi-literal translation:

Elephants' life spans are more short than humans' life spans.
Elephants' life spans are shorter than humans' life spans.

That makes sense. I just thought that this sounded more natural:

→ → Humans live longer than elephants.

Sadly, things get confusing when we translate Japanese into English and vice versa. The good news is that once you are able to read, think, and reason in Japanese, then you won't have to worry about all of this back-and-forth stuff... unless you're a translator! ^_^


By putting a question word (e.g. "what," "who," etc.) directly before より, we can form superlative.

In other words, we can say:

"the most of anyone" by saying "who より," and
"the most of anything" by saying "what より."

Here are some examples:


しゅん君クラスの中でだれよりも足が速い。
しゅんくん は クラス の なか で だれ より も あし が はやい。
Shun-kun runs the fastest out of anyone in the class.
Literally: “Shun-kun + は + class + の + inside + で + more than anyone (=who + より + も) + legs + が + fast.”
Note: Don't worry about that (も) right now. Just know that it comes after より sometimes.


お母さんが作るご飯よりおいしいです。
おかあさん が つくる ごはん は なに より おいしい です。
My mom’s cooking is the best.
Literally: “mother + が + make + meal + は + more than anything (=what + より) + tasty + です.”


Hang in there. We're almost finished.

The last thing we need to take note of is that comparisons using より are not formed with negative words.

What I mean is, the word or phrase coming after より cannot be in its negative form.

So this is wrong:


× 日本中国より大きくないです。
× にほん は ちゅうごく より おおきくない です。
× Japan is not bigger than China.
× Literally: “Japan + は + China + より + not big + です.”


Instead, we would have to say:


中国日本より大きいです。
〇 ちゅうごく は にほん より おおきい です。
〇 China is bigger than Japan.
Literally: “China + は + Japan + より + big + です.”


Similarly, we cannot say:


× わたしより早く出勤しません
× わたし は かれ より はやく しゅっきん しません。
× I don’t get to work earlier than him.
× Literally: “I + は + he + より + early + going to work + don’t do.”


Instead, that would be:


わたしより早く出勤します。
〇 かれ は わたし より はやく しゅっきん します。
〇 He gets to work earlier than me.
Literally: “he + は + I + より + early + going to work + does.”


You made it to the end!

That was a lot of information for an N4 lesson, so I would recommend re-reading this until you are 100% comfortable with the meaning and usage of は~より.

After that, the next step would be to try using this sentence structure in a conversation, maybe in a lesson, language exchange, or just chatting with Japanese friends and/or family, if you have them.

This grammar is crucial to obtaining fluency in the language, so don't skip over it!

Happy studies, yo.




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