Each week, we chat about the quirks & anomalies of the English language. There are, after all, more than 1000 of them. Or is that over 1000? Now we’re confused…
Q: Hi AWC, I read somewhere that you’ve produced more than 24,000 graduates since you started.
A: Sounds about right. Not bad, huh?
Q: It is very good. But that’s not my question. I want to know whether or not I should be writing “more than 24,000” or “over 24,000” when talking about that kind of thing. Can you shed light on that one?
A: We can. And it’s a GREAT question, as we often find ourselves wondering which one to use. And it has an answer you’re going to love to hear.
Q: Surely not…
A: Are you ready?
Q: Say it isn’t so…
A: You can use either!
Q: Wow. English, you never fail to amaze me. All is forgiven.
A: That’s right – in this “before numbers” context, “over” and “more than” are like Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic – both equally good and both capable of being the best on any given day. ”
Q: Nice. So, it simply comes down to which sounds better?
A: Well, with your own writing, yes. But in some situations, it will still come down to style.
Q: Ah well, that’s easy then. Roger Federer has more style.
A: Haha. No, we mean style guides. Because while there are no set grammar rules that dictate whether you'd use one or the other, many publications add their own to help with clarity and consistency. For example, Fairfax prefers “over” for heights (“the fence was over two metres tall”) but “more than” for other things including money (“she is estimated to be worth more than $50 million”).
Q: So is that a common thing with publications?
A: Yeah, a lot have traditionally done it that way – and many experienced editors continue to have a soft spot for “more than”. However, things are changing. For example, the AP Stylebook – the official guide for Associated Press journalists in the US – had always promoted the use of “more than” in favour of “over”. Then in early 2014, it announced it was accepting both options equally and permitted them to be interchangeable. It was quite a big deal at the time.
Q: A bit like America recognising gay marriage?
A: Yes, but with far fewer rainbow profile pictures on social media.
Q: So, did anyone protest the change to AP's style?
A: Well, this is the internet age; people protest a verdict on The Voice. So, sure, some people were grumpy. One clever tweet claimed that they’d accept the change “more than their dead body”!
Q: Oh I see what they did there. I’m still in shock about English giving us a straightforward rule for a change.
A: We like an easy one every now and then.
Q: I reckon. I’m so more than all those difficult ones.
A: Um, hang on, we didn’t say you could just interchange “more than” and “over” for everything…
Q: You’ve helped me over words can say.
Over and above…
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