Q: I often hear people say “than me” when I believe they should be saying “than I.” I hear this on a fairly regular basis, and occasionally see it in published work. The problem is that I am at a loss to explain why “than me” is wrong and “than I” is right. I thank you in advance for taking the trouble to clarify this point.
A: Both “than I” and “than me” can be correct, depending on what you mean.
For example, if you said, “He likes her better than me,” you would mean “better than he likes me.” If you said (correctly but a bit stiffly), “He likes her better than I,” you would mean “better than I do.” In that second case, you might be better off adding the final verb and saying, “better than I do.”
But a sentence like “He’s bigger than me” would never be correct in standard English. Both “He’s bigger than I” and “He’s bigger than I am” are correct.
Some people might find that “He’s bigger than I” sounds a little formal without the implied verb at the end. So my preference would be for “He’s bigger than I am.”
People attach the wrong pronoun to “than” more often in the first person: “than I” vs. “than me.” But the principle is the same with other pronouns (“than him,” “than us,” and so on).
By the way, some usage gurus, including William Safire, accept “than” as a preposition, and claim the object pronoun (“me,” “him,” “us,” and so on) afterward is just fine. Certainly common usage is on their side. But you seem to be asking for a “correctness” call. And in formal English, “than” is regarded as a conjunction, not a preposition.
I hope I haven’t muddied the waters even further!
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