Shengliver’s Note: When this entry was written in 2008, the pal called Fantasy was still in high school. She sat the college entrance exam in the summer of 2009 so she should be a sophomore now. In this entry, Shengliver answers a question raised by Fantasy and he comments on some common practices found among teachers and learners in China.


Fantasy is a young friend I have online. She is a high school student located in Huangshi City, Hubei Province. A question raised by her is difficult and I will explain it here on my blog.


The question is: What are the differences between the following items?





more than

MORE THAN is for comparison.

Ken already earns more than his father ever did.

(Ken may earn 100 dollars a month now; his father may have done 75 in the past.)

Note that MORE THAN is also used to say that the subject has more qualities or functions than described.

The computer is more than a typewriter.

(We may use the computer for word processing, but a computer has more functions than that.)

no more than

NO MORE THAN is used to show how small a number or amount is.

There is room for no more than three cars.

(Only three cars can be parked here. The speaker indicates that the number is too small by using “no more than”.)

not more than

NOT MORE THAN is almost a synonym for NO MORE THAN, but there is a slight difference in meaning between them.

There is not enough room for more than three cars.

(The maximum number of cars that can be parked here is three.)

other than

OTHER THAN is used in various ways. Some usages are established while others, though disputed among native speakers of English, can be interpreted differently depending on the context.

When OTHER THAN occurs with NOT or other negative words, it expresses an exception.

The truth was known to no one other than herself.

(The truth was known to no one except herself.)

NONE OTHER THAN is used to stress the name of a person or thing concerned.

The first speech was given by none other than Clint Eastwood.

(It was Clint Eastwood who gave the first speech. It was not someone else. This is a surprising fact to the speaker.)

OTHER THAN can mean “besides” in a positive sentence.

Other than Class One, I teach Class Two.

(It is known to the audience that I teach Class One. I do Class Two as well.)

OTHER THAN can mean “NOT”.

Enrollments in Languages Other Than English in United States Institutions of Higher Education, Fall 2006

(This is the title of a research paper. The paper investigates non-English languages studied in USA colleges and universities.)

rather than

We use A RATHER THAN B to show our preference for A.

I think you’d call it a lecture rather than a talk.

Ideally, because A and B are parallel to each other in the construction A RATHER THAN B, A and B should be in the same grammatical form.

The problem is mine rather than yours.

The girl was shocked rather than amazed.

The bird comes back in winter rather than in summer.

I ran away from her rather than offered her a helping hand.

In actual use, however, various forms of a verb occur when RATHER THAN is followed by the verb.

I ran away from her rather than offered her a helping hand.

I ran away from her rather than offering her a helping hand.

I ran away from her rather than offer her a helping hand.

Note that when RATHER THAN + VERB is fronted, the verb takes the form of doing or do.

He decided to change to another hotel rather than to complain / complain / complaining all the time.

Rather than complaining / complain all the time, he decided to change to another hotel.




Chinese teachers of English, on the whole, teach a disproportionate amount of grammar and vocabulary. The result is that their students know a lot about the language – its grammar and its vocabulary, for example. This is the strength of ELT in China. In a sense a Chinese high school student probably has more grammar knowledge than an average native speaker does.


However, what is insufficient is experiment with what is known about the language in a meaningful context on the part of both the teacher and the students. A learner’s typical mentality is that when he attempts to use the language, he will make all kinds of mistakes. And these potential mistakes shut him up. It is held that if what I say is mistake-ridden, the experiment will be futile and worse still, as some educators believe, mistakes will become my habit. Once my mistakes have solidified in my speech habit, it will be hard to be rid of them later on. So a student would rather practise none than make those mistakes. No practice, no mistake.


Were a learner to make no mistakes and take no chances, when would he learn the right way?


To avoid mistakes, some teachers and learners turn obsessive about memorising long passages and even a whole text. Learning by rote is popular in China for a couple of reasons. In feudal China, royal exams tested the candidates’ ability to reproduce sayings and quotes from the Chinese classics. Historical influences are still at play today. It is ludicrous that even in today’s China, some educators and students put so much emphasis on rote learning. Rote learning has its role to play, but it cannot replace other mental processes. Learning by rote is not equal to coming up with a creative thought. Another reason that accounts for the prevalence of mechanical memorisation is as follows: when teachers themselves cannot use the language with ease, having the students memorise a long text is a perfect way to avoid those mistakes that could be made if the learner or the teacher were experimenting with the language for a meaningful purpose. But rote learning does not translate into ability to create and communicate. No matter how many texts you may have learned by heart, you will not be able to talk with facility without practising talking itself.


Across the country, ELT has virtually been turned into an exam-preparation mechanism. However, at the end of the day, a successful learner should be able to tell us that this exam-oriented methodology does not enable us to learn the real language.


Teaching and learning facts about the English language has got out of proportion in the learning picture. Chinese teachers and students of English in high school do too much knowledge and too little practice (the actual use of the language). I personally believe that a good knowledge of the language and applying the knowledge to meaningful use are both of importance, with the former backing up the latter and the latter being the final product of the learning endeavour. The two should be given the right amount of work they deserve. On the one hand, too much knowledge with little use of the language would lead to inactivity or less activity of the learner’s mind, which is a killer of his interest and mental power. With too little knowledge, on the other, practice would lead nowhere.


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