“Over”, “More Than” and Over-Correcting

Today, we’re answering a question we got from one of our recent submissions, as we think it can be quite helpful to other people, as well.  It’s about word choice, and over correcting.

Specifically, it’s about numbers, and what words to use with them.  The submission had used the phrase “over 900 million dollars”.  Their teacher had marked that wrong, and insisted they use “more than 900 million dollars”.  They were confused, and asked us why “over” was wrong.

The answer, however, is that “over” isn’t wrong, and any grammar rulebook or style guide you find is likely to say the same thing.  There’s a misconception that “over” is the wrong word, but it’s not particularly true.

The Grammar Girl has a good breakdown of the situation, but essentially, one magazine editor decided he didn’t like the way “over 50,000” sounded back in the late nineteenth century.  He didn’t have a particular reason for disliking it; it just didn’t fit his style.  For most people, a personal preference wouldn’t matter, but when you’re the editor of the New York Evening Post, you have a little more impact.  He prevented writers at his magazine from using it, and they took that rule with them to other magazines and newspapers, and eventually, it wormed its way in as a “rule” in newspaper offices around the country.

That doesn’t make it right, however, and even the last holdout—the AP style guide—relented in 2014.  No reason was ever given for preferring “more than” to “over”; it just sounded better to one particular writer, who had an impact on how people wrote and read, and it became a “known rule” despite not having any basis in grammar whatsoever.

That’s how language works, though—if enough people agree that something is right or wrong, it becomes right or wrong.  Language is living and fluid, and words and grammar fall in and out of style.  There are myths that you shouldn’t end a sentence with a preposition, or that you shouldn’t split an infinitive or that you shouldn’t start a sentence with “and” or “but”, but there are no legitimate grammatical reasons for any of those so-called rules.  The primary point of language is communication.  The sentence “But we decided to boldly go in.” violates all three of those “rules”, but is a perfectly understandable sentence.  It’s fine to write like that.

Of course, writing to communicate is one thing.  Writing an essay or a paper, where you’re graded, is another.  While you may think what you’re writing is correct, and grammar has no rules against it, the final opinion goes to your professor—they’re giving you the grade.  It’s best, on something like that, to go with whatever your professor feels is the right way to write.  After all, you want to make sure that your grade is over the rest of the class.  Or should that be more than the rest?

If you want to make sure your grammar is flowing nicely, why not stop by Wordsmith Essay’s order page?  Our team of international editors will help make sure everything is clear and ready to go.  Check us out today!

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