There’s a quiet war between the over/more than camps, and I took part in it last week. I was updating my bio on my web site (you can read it here) when an associate cautioned me to replace my overs with more thans.
Describing myself, I had written:
In her corporate teaching career of over 18 years, she has worked with executives, engineers . . . .
Her newsletter, Better Writing at Work, has over 6,000 subscribers.
Susan Daffron of Logical Expressions recommended more than. She worried that nitpicking copyeditors would be upset with my substandard overs. I agreed that they might, and I decided to change them. But not without a fight–with myself.
Should I use over, which sounds more down to earth? Or should I choose more than and avoid the risk that people will think I don’t know "proper" English?
I pulled a half-dozen reference books off my shelf before I chose my side. Here’s what I found:
The Gregg Reference Manual states, "Either more than or over may be used before numbers, but more than is preferable in formal writing." Gregg adds, "In some situations–especially involving age–more than is not appropriate." Example: "people over 50."
The Associated Press Stylebook states, "More than is preferred with numerals."
The Microsoft Manual of Style for Technical Publications recommends "more than to refer to quantifiable figures and amounts." But it suggests over for "a comparison in which more is already used." Example: "over 50 percent more free space."
The Chicago Manual of Style defends over: "As an equivalent of more than, this word [over] is perfectly good idiomatic English."
Garner’s Modern American Usage emphatically states, "The charge that over is inferior to more than is a baseless crotchet. "
Fowler’s Modern English Usage discusses the issue at length. It notes that American newspapers prefer more than before a number unless the number is an age, whereas in Britain over gets equal status with more than–with no quibbling.
After reading those guides, I might have just flipped a coin. But instead I decided to revise.
My bio now says:
"In her corporate career of 18+ years . . . "
"More than 50 companies and organizations . . . "
"nearly 6,000 subscribers" (While editing, I realized I do not quite have "over 6,000" subscribers to Better Writing at Work. Subscribe here and put me over the top!)
Have you taken a stand on over vs. more than? Whatever you choose, remember that with ages, over is preferred. And in a construction like the one below, remember the hyphen, or your meaning will be muddied!
jobs lost by over-50 managers
Over? More than? Whatever your choice, you can find a style manual to defend it.