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More Than vs. Over: Which is Correct?

Categories: Grammar, What's New.

Q: I have an editor that’s always changing “over” to “more than” in my articles. For example, if I write “The baseball player received an endorsement deal for over $10 million,” she changes it to “more than $10 million.” I’ve always thought both were acceptable. Am I wrong? –Anonymous

A: Throughout college and my writing career, I’ve also run across editors that made me change “over” to “more than.” In fact, it happened to me so much that I eventually became one of those editors—just ask anyone who has ever received the red-ink treatment from me on a freelance article. But just because editors swap out the terms doesn’t mean that using “over” to express “higher than or more than” is wrong.

After an extensive search, I can safely tell you that there’s no grammatical rule that says you can’t use “over” instead of “more than.” Most references (Webster’s New World College Dictionary, Merriam-Webster.com and Dictionary.com, to name a few) define “over” as meaning “more than.” In fact, Garner’s Modern American Usage flatly states that “‘the prepositional ‘over’ is interchangeable with ‘more than’ … the charge that ‘over’ is inferior to ‘more than’ is a baseless crotchet.”

So the choice between using either of these two words is just that: a choice. This is not a grammar issue; it’s a style issue. Both “The baseball player received over $10 million” and “The baseball player received more than $10 million” are grammatically correct, and you needn’t feel like you’ve made an error. But keep in mind that it’s also the editor’s right to edit your piece to fit the style of her newspaper or magazine. And a lot of editors follow old in-house style guides that, for whatever reason, ban “over” when “more than” can be used.

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9 Responses to More Than vs. Over: Which is Correct?

  1. Kevin says:

    Another matter is clarity and confusion.

    "The baseball player received more than $10 million" could mean he received compensation other than the money, e.g. "The baseball player received $10 million, a new car, a HDTV, and all the chocolate he could eat."

    I am so more than this discussion.

  2. @Susan Thanks for the catch. The newsletter went out a little earlier than expected, so I didn’t get to give it my final read.

    As for the controversy, according to AP "more than" is preferred with numerical values, but not required. There’s a big difference there. It’s acceptable to use "over" with numerical values, though I’m personally so used to "more than" I’ll likely stick with it.

    Thanks for the comments! I love reading them and enjoy the debate.

    Brain

  3. Susan Heim says:

    However, the use of "$10 million dollars" is not correct. (See your last paragraph.) It’s redundant to use both a dollar sign and the word "dollars." It should either read "$10 million" or "10 million dollars."

  4. And, of course, "The baseball player received more than $10 million dollars" is the only correct answer.

  5. WC says:

    I agree with L.C. and Michael. Over is for distance, while more than is for amounts. To exchange the terms is to exchange meaning. It is not a style choice — it is a matter of being accurate.

  6. (And I should have said I was responding to Brian, not Michael.)

  7. Sorry, Charlie. Not quite accurate. The golden rule is that "over" is typically for length and width (over three miles long … over six feet tall) while "more than" is more appropriate for quantity, which should never be ‘over." E.g., "there were more than 10,000 people at the stadium." Using ‘over" in that instance is just flat out wrong.

  8. I don’t think it’s simply a style issue — not simply a choice — to say "more than" instead of "over." It’s a clarity and audience issue. The word "over" can also be used in terms of spatial relationship (the sun is over the mountain), whereas "more than" has a more precise meaning of "greater than." For this reason, it is more precise (and thus potentially clearer) to say "more than."

    It’s a matter of audience, too. If your readers do not speak English as a native language, they are more likely to understand the clarity of "more than" instead of "over." This is why style guides for technical publication, such as the Microsoft Manual of Style for Technical Publications (MSTP) advocate "more than" instead of "over." But for casual writing, "over" is hardly misunderstood, especially by native English speakers, so the issue boils down to clarity and audience, where good reasons remain to use "more than" instead of "over," depending on the circumstances.

    For my part (as a professional editor for 25+ years), I routinely change "over" to "more than" in nearly all technical publications, and in certain other publications depending on audience (such as one English-language magazine article I edited for Spanish-speakers) or if I know the content (always nonfiction) will be translated into other languages. I will also make the edit depending on the rhythm of the sentence. And in some cases, I will change "more than" to "over" to be more casual or to take less space (such as in a headline). But there are good reasons for using "more than" in certain cases — it’s not just a "choice" or a style issue, but a matter of audience and clarity. I don’t believe grammatical rules have ever been the reason why editors have promoted "more than" instead of "over."

    Michael

  9. Janie says:

    I was taught "the cow jumped over the moon," and the editor told me to use "more than." Whenever I see the word "over" – as in "over a certain amount" – I think of that phrase.

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