Business Writing

Talk, tips, and best picks for writers on the job.

Syntax Training | Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Share this page

« In Praise of Email | Main | Two Sides of the Fence »

September 05, 2008



When you're quantifying your experience, I'd have gone with "more than" rather than the plus sign, which looks awkward -- especially for someone offering her services as a careful writer.


I considered "more than" in that sentence, but it felt a bit wordy to me there. I liked the brevity of the plus sign.

Thanks for joining the fray.

Clare Lynch

Hi Lynn

I think that your first instinct was perfectly right.The nitpicking surrounding 'more than' versus 'over' stems from the same unthinking pedantry that says you can't start a sentence with 'but' or 'and'. It also leads unquestioning writers to create tortured prose in an effort to avoid split infinitives and ending a sentence with a preposition just because . . . er . . . well . . . 18th-century grammarians said so, didn't they?

Personally, I love Paul Brian's forthright pronouncement on the over versus more than issue in his list of non-errors in English: "This absurd distinction ignores the role metaphor plays in language." See

Let common sense prevail!


Hi, Clare. Thank you for reminding me of Paul Brians. I have his excellent "Common Errors in English Usage" on my bookshelf, but I didn't think to consult it for the "over-more than" controversy. According to Brians, "over" has been used as "more than" for over (NOT more than) 1,000 years!

As always, thanks for commenting.



Lynn, thank you for this blog! I Googled "more than vs. over" and found this page. "Over" has always felt a little sloppy to me in certain usage, but I'm glad to hear that it's not completely inappropriate.



Thanks, Scott. I am glad you found the information helpful. Some of the distinctions do come as a surprise, don't they?


I think it's funny that many editors will insist their preference is correct, while most honest investigators of this subject eventually have to concede that either is usually correct and that the choice is made by feel.

My own choice is that things countable in whole numbers — color illustrations, parking spaces, golden retrievers — get "more than," while such ongoing flows as time or water, which are not discreet objects but are simply marked off in years or gallons, can be "over" or "under." It satisfies my sense of logic. But I doubt I'll sell too many editors on that one.


It's a beautifully stated preference, though. Thanks, Will.

I need to caution you about your use of "discreet." You actually wanted "discrete." When the "e's" are separated, it means "separate."

Thanks for commenting.

Lisa in Atlanta

I was taught that "over" refers only to distance or time. Thus "over 60" would always be appropriate when referring to age as would "over 75 miles." However, one should use "more than" when referring to numbers of hamburgers sold. ;-)


Hi, Lisa. McDonald's used to state on its sign how many hamburgers had been sold. I don't remember whether McDonald's used "over" or "more than." Do you know?

Thanks for commenting.


I was taught to use more than in these situations in J-school and cringe when over is used. However, Merriam-Webster online's third definition of the preposition form of "over" is "more than "

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hi, Roger. Stop cringing. "Over" has taken its place at the table.

Thanks for commenting.



English speakers have become lazier over the centuries; hence the change from Old English to Middle English and so forth, but that doesn't mean we need to abandon proper English because it seems too wordy. It is more intelligent, actually. It proves you have command of the English language when you are able to speak proper standard English.

Because I have a minor in Journalism, I simply find it difficult to utter the words "over 50 percent" and such. "More than" is an adverbial phrase modifying something quantitative, telling the audience to what degree something is (as is the phrase "less than"). "Over" is also an adverb, but it typically tells the audience where or in what position or direction (as is the word "under"); however, it is also a preposition. "Over 50 percent" sounds like you are standing above/over the 50 percent.

I hope this helps.

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Carissa, thanks for your comment. I hope you had time to read the opinions of the style manuals I noted.


The comments to this entry are closed.

Share this page
Lynn Gaertner-Johnston
Syntax Training Website About Contact Business Writing with Heart - How to Build Great Work Relationships One Message at a Time Free Business Communications Curriculum for College Instructors
Paper Check
Error Quests
Instant Grammar Checker - Correct all grammar errors and enhance your writing.
Take your writing from acceptable to excellent.
© 2005-present - Syntax Training - All Rights Reserved