Copy Editor’s Corner | More Than vs. Over

Copy Editor’s Corner | More Than vs. Over

Copy editors are taught that over should be reserved for spatial relationships, as in “The cow jumped over the moon,” and more than be used with numerals. Josh’s salary didn’t increase by over 5 percent, it increased by more than 5 percent.

But this guideline needn’t be so rigid, especially if you’re the one in charge of the style guide. Bill Walsh, author of Lapsing Into a Comma: A Curmudgeon’s Guide to the Many Things That Can Go Wrong in Print – and How to Avoid Them, makes a case for bending this rule.

Walsh concedes that more than does indeed make the most sense for discrete numbers. His example:

More than 200 people attended the party.

But he points out that it makes less sense – and even calls it silly – to count collective amounts as units, one at a time. The reason more than works with the above example is that people can be counted as whole units, whereas time, space, and money can be broken down into much smaller units. For example, Walsh says, “more than 500 pounds” doesn’t include 500.5 pounds, but over does.

Walsh’s take on the subject is just another style preference, but it’s worth considering.

Alison Dotson