If you’ve ever dealt with an editor or teacher who always changes over to more than in your writing, you’re not alone. And you might be left wondering, is the choice between over and more than grammatical or stylistic? Are both uses acceptable, or does it depend on the context of the sentence? Here, we’ll dive into the differences between the two and when to use each one.
Over vs. more than: a short history
The question about these commonly confused words can actually be traced to a specific moment in history—the American poet and newspaper editor William Cullen Bryant is often credited with igniting this debate. In 1877, Bryant was the editor in chief of the New York Evening Post and insisted his writers could not use over in place of more than when talking about quantities.
Bryant’s rule stood for many years. So, for example, if one of the Post’s reporters were penning a piece about Babe Ruth’s contract with the Yankees, it would have been correct to say, “Ruth signed a three-year deal for more than $70,000 annually,” and incorrect to say, “Ruth signed a three-year deal for over $70,000 annually.”
Though Bryant’s distinction didn’t derive from any specific style guides of the time, it set a precedent that became common practice in American English writing for nearly 150 years.
It wasn’t until 2014 when the AP Stylebook decided to revisit the issue and clarify things for a new generation of writers. Publishing an article with the humorous headline “More Than My Dead Body!,” AP insisted that it is fine to use over and more than interchangeably. Here was the explanation from AP Stylebook editor Darren Christian:
“We decided on the change because it has become common usage. We’re not dictating that people use ‘over’ – only that they may use it as well as ‘more than’ to indicate greater numerical value.”
Thus, the choice between over and more than is merely a matter of personal taste or style, rather than a grammar issue.
Over vs. more than
While you shouldn’t spend too much time worrying about which word appears more correct, there are certain cases when the usage of one rather than the other makes more sense.
Let’s take a closer look at each word, as well as some examples, to clarify when it’s more appropriate to use over instead of more than and vice versa.
When to use over
The word over can be used as a preposition, adverb, or adjective and has many different definitions.
Here we want only to look at over when it’s part of a prepositional phrase. In this form, it’s sometimes used to mean “in excess of” or “more than in degree, quantity, or extent” and sometimes used to describe an object’s position as above or on top of something.
While its meaning is usually literal if used in place of more than, the word over can also have a figurative meaning, such as over or above a specified limit. For example, the sentence “I counted over eight rabbits near our garden” is a figurative observation; it suggests you saw some number greater than eight.
Using over instead of more than is typical in sentences where the general tone is conversational and even conjectural, rather than factual.
When to use more than
The phrase more than is a combination of the adjective more, meaning “a greater or additional amount” and the preposition than, meaning “in comparison with.” Together they mean “an additional amount compared with something else.” The phrase more than often appears before a number or quantity.
Within an adverbial phrase, you will see more than modifying a noun, including people, money, liquid, objects, or anything else that can be quantified. For example, the sentence “It was not possible to score more than 50 points in the game” shows a correct use of more than as an adverb, as it is modifying the quantity of points that can be scored.
Using more than instead of over is typical in sentences where the general tone is more formal, such as in professional, academic, or scientific writing.
Over vs. more than examples
Examples of over used in a sentence:
- The van can travel over 200 miles on one tank of gas.
- Martin’s debut novel was a huge success, with over three million copies sold.
- They decided to stay in Las Vegas for over a month.
- Clara’s heirloom watch is over 70 years old.
- The couple has kept the stray dog for over six months now.
Examples of more than used in a sentence:
- It will cost Shonique more than $90 to change the date of their flight.
- I have more than 20 pairs of running shoes.
- More than 80 percent of the students voted in the class election.
- They have more than enough money saved to afford a nice vacation.
- Ryan warned her more than once not to get involved.
Over vs. more than FAQs
When should you use over?
Over is most commonly used as a preposition, either to describe an object’s position as above or on top of something or to mean “in excess of.” It is best used figuratively in sentences where the tone is conversational.
When should you use more than?
The phrase more than is a combination of the adjective more and the preposition than—together they mean “an additional amount or quantity compared with something else.”
Are over and more than interchangeable?
In 2014, grammar experts at the AP Stylebook announced that over and more than are indeed interchangeable and a matter of personal taste or choice.