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Here I am sitting late in the evening, struggling with a home test devised by a university teacher of mine, and here is a question in the test:

Как корректно закончить следующее предложение?

Я считаю Пушкина более талантливым поэтом, чем ... .

(а) Блок

(б) Блока

The teacher is known for setting up traps and being harsh to students (see, e.g., this post of mine). The test I am currently struggling with is full of nasty traps set up by using homonyms, idioms, double meanings, etc. Some questions have more than one correct answer, and some - none at all. The good news is that I can use the Internet and, in particular, the Russian SE, as the test is to be completed at home.

I tried to find the answer to the above question by doing research in Google, but got very much confused and puzzled. One the one hand, a classic Russian writer, Lev Tolstoy, wrote in his novel Anna Karenina:

– Нисколько, – Левин слышал, что Облонский улыбался, говоря это, – я просто не считаю его более бесчестным, чем кого бы то ни было из богатых купцов и дворян. (Source)

He used the same grammatical construction as the one in the test question and chose either the genitive case or the accusative case after чем, and this suggests that I should choose Answer (б). On the other hand, I found examples suggesting the opposite. Here is an example:

Считаю его более значимой фигурой в игре команды, чем Аксель Витсель. (Source)

Especially confusing is this article. Its title is: "Считаю Жевнова более стабильным, чем Малафеева." But the same article also contains the following sentence: "Но все равно считаю его более стабильным игроком, чем Вячеслав Малафеев." That is, the author flip-flops like a landed fish when choosing the grammatical case in the grammatical construction my teacher is asking me about.

My gut tells me there is a trap. The whole sentence sounds somewhat weird to me, so I won't be surprised if the teacher says that none of the suggested variants makes the sentence right. I also won't be surprised to hear that both suggested variants will do the job and can be used interchangeably. And who knows, maybe only one variant is correct if formally judged by some strict grammar rules only teachers know.

So I am curious as to what native speakers have to say and whether they can help a confused Japanese student evade a trap set up by a harsh Russian teacher.

Which variant should I choose and why?

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    Изучать русскую грамматику по спортивным статьям — дело неблагодарное. Вспомните "выиграть соперника". Лев Толстой для этих целей тоже не годится otvet.mail.ru/question/215998653 – Elena Nov 21 '19 at 16:09
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    I see I got three answers below so far: one says that both variants are correct, another answer says that only the second variant is right, and the third answer says that only the first variant is technically correct. Wow, my teacher is a beast who can trick even native speakers, and I am at a loss as to whose answer to copy. I'll try to think deeply about the arguments provided in the answers. – Mitsuko Nov 21 '19 at 18:09
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    @shabunc : Thanks for editing the title, you made it more catchy and specific. Since Quassnoi says that поэтом is critical here, I just added поэтом in your version of the title, to preserve the exact wording of the test question. I also swapped Блок and Блокa in the title for consistency with the order of the variants in the test, to avoid a potential confusion as to which variant we refer as to first and which as to second. – Mitsuko Nov 21 '19 at 18:14
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    @Mitsuko: sentences like the old man the boat make a nice parlor trick and are fun to think about, however, in actual writing, you don't try to be clever about grammar nuances, you want to be concise and give your texts proper style. I think it's OK for a teacher to bring them up every once in a while, but I don't think questions like that genuinely reflect your command of Russian. – Quassnoi Nov 21 '19 at 19:53
  • I think the both sentences are grammatical but the first version is also ambiguous. – Anixx Nov 24 '19 at 12:53
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Я считаю Пушкина более талантливым поэтом, чем Блока

This means that I think Pushkin is more talented than Block is.

Я считаю Пушкина более талантливым поэтом, чем Блок

This means I think Pushkin is more talented than what Block thinks about Pushkin's talent.

Both sentences are grammatically valid.

  • Thanks, but your answer seems to be in contradiction with examples cited in my question. "Считаю его более значимой фигурой в игре команды, чем Аксель Витсель." "Но все равно считаю его более стабильным игроком, чем Вячеслав Малафеев." Just follow the links and have a look. The intended meaning is clearly different from what you describe. Or do you think the journalists made mistakes? – Mitsuko Nov 21 '19 at 14:34
  • Yes, I see this and am kind of confused. I would always use the genitive case in this situation speaking of the first meaning (I think A is more talented than B). – user7808407 Nov 21 '19 at 14:42
  • Do you really mean genitive, not accusative? – Mitsuko Nov 21 '19 at 14:44
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    I am also highly unsure that you can omit считает in чем считает Блок. – Mitsuko Nov 21 '19 at 14:50
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    Your answer is correct, thus you have my upvote. – V.V. Nov 21 '19 at 18:44
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Technically, this variant is correct:

Я считаю Пушкина более талантливым поэтом, чем Блок.

This is easily verified by changing the word order in the sentence a little bit:

Я считаю Пушкина более талантливым, чем Блок, поэтом.

This way putting Блок in accusative makes the sentence sound ungrammatical.

That said, building a sentence like this is putting a strain on reader's cognitive abilities.

The "wrong" one is not a garden path sentence (because it's technically ungrammatical) but it's very close to it because it looks grammatical, and here's why.

Consider the two sentences:

  1. Я читаю Пушкина более тщательно, чем Блок.

  2. Я читаю Пушкина более тщательно, чем Блока.

Those are two simple sentences with apparently different meanings: the former means "I read Pushkin more thoroughly than Blok does", the second one means "I read Pushkin more thoroughly than I read Blok".

Those are two equally valid sentences, and there's nothing wrong with them.

Your original sentences are almost like this one, however, более … чем is not governed by the verb anymore. It's now not считаю более, чем but Пушкин более талантливый, чем. The slight change in the wording completely rewires the whole sentence structure, leading the reader down the proverbial garden path.

As a result, the incorrect sentence has perceptibly correct structure (because it does not differ much from the correct sentences with almost the same structure) and its meaning can be easily deduced. This makes even the native users make mistakes like that, which is something you saw in your Internet quotes.

It's not much different from the famous проезжая мимо станции, у меня слетела шляпа.

Any Russian speaker can tell what exactly does it mean; it's close to the grammatically, if not so much semantically, correct проезжая мимо станции, слетела шляпа; and it does work exactly like this in many languages, so it does not go against the basic patterns of language use.

This is enough to make it widely used by the native speakers.

So the real answer to your question would be:

Both of those sentences are incorrect: the first one is ungrammatical, and the second one is hard to get out of

Something like

Я считаю, что Пушкин, как поэт, талантливее Блока

is shorter and easier to parse and understand.

  • Wow, your theory even explains why different cases were used for Malafeev in the examples provided in my question. "Считаю Жевнова более стабильным, чем Малафеева." "Но все равно считаю его более стабильным игроком, чем Вячеслав Малафеев." The word игроком makes the difference! Just as your theory says. I've been so close to cracking the riddle on my own, as I found that article with these examples. I just had to think better and spot the difference between the sentences.... – Mitsuko Nov 21 '19 at 18:32
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    this is the first time in a veeeery long time when I actually disagree with Quassnoi - in the part about both sentences being invalid. – shabunc Nov 21 '19 at 18:50
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    @Curiosity: no, technically (technically) я считаю Пушкина более талантливым, чем Блока is invalid as well. It's not считаю более, чем Блока, it's Пушкин более, чем Блок. However, Я считаю Пушкина талантливее Блока is fine. As with the проезжая мимо станции, the overall shape of the sentence is almost the same, but the internal structure is completely different. That's why you should just steer clear of sentences like that. – Quassnoi Nov 21 '19 at 19:34
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    @Quassnoi, I am with shabunc here. Your answer is incorrect – user7808407 Nov 21 '19 at 19:51
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    @user7808407 That's OK, and that's exactly why I wrote that one should not use sentences like that at all. – Quassnoi Nov 21 '19 at 19:55
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The sentence "Я считаю Пушкина более талантливым [поэтом], чем Блока" can be treated as a short form of following: "Я считаю Пушкина более талантливым [поэтом], [чем я считаю] Блока". This is the correct form.

The sentence "Я считаю Пушкина более талантливым [поэтом], чем Блок" is incorrect (in this particular context, @user7808407 actually is right about how can this be alternatively interpreted), the form with nominative would be rather "Я считаю, что Пушкин более талантлив[ый] [поэт], чем Блок". However, this kind of mistakes are quite typical in casual speech. Some linguists even think that those are early traces of Russian language evolution towards the loss of cases, but, for good or for bad, we are not there yet. And won't be in foreseeable future.

  • you seem to have missed the поэтом which kinda turns the whole sentence upside down – Quassnoi Nov 21 '19 at 17:01
  • @Quassnoi I don't see how so far - I've added "поэтом" as optional word but don't see how it changes the overall picture. – shabunc Nov 21 '19 at 17:08
  • that's surprising, my answer is more or less the same but I got downvoted badly. – user7808407 Nov 21 '19 at 17:51
  • Would you also say “я нашёл чемодан более тяжёлым [предметом], чем сумку”? Sounds very questionable. – Roman Odaisky Nov 21 '19 at 19:00
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    @RomanOdaisky "я нахожу чемодан более неудобным, чем сумку" - yep, I would also say this, this is perfectly fine. ("нашёл" is not applicable in this context however). – shabunc Nov 21 '19 at 19:04

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