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I have always been taught, and have used, the word "чем" when making comparisons (or the genitive case sometimes). However, I have recently encountered the word "нежели" several times in books, used just like "чем". For example:

"Этот мир оказался притягательнее, нежели тот, в котором мы к тому времени прожили..."

Is this rather bookish/formal? Should I attempt to incorporate it into my speech, or will it sound strange in most situations? Does it have subtleties that differentiate it from "чем"?

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    "Нежели" is bookish and archaic. And as it's often the case with the bookish and archaic words, it's at the same time humorous and highly colloquial/regional/dialectal. So, if you use the word in a very serious context, then it'll sound bookish, and if used in casual speech it sounds funny and joking.
    – Yellow Sky
    Jan 14 '14 at 19:36
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"Нежели" is bookish, but it is not archaic. I use it in everyday speech quite often, and dictionaries do not mark it as obsolete.

According to Большой Толковый Словарь, it can be used in all the same contexts as "чем". However, I can notice some differences that are not described in the dictionary.

1) I prefer to use "чем" instead of "нежели" to introduce a comparison which is expressed as a sentence:

Горы были выше, чем я предполагал. (I will not use "нежели" here, it sounds odd)
Горы были выше, чем на Кавказе. (I can use "нежели" here, it will sound natural)

2) You can use "нежели" with adjectives in analytic form, i.e. forms with "более\менее". "чем" doesn't work with analytic forms:

Время от времени вырождение, снижение активности и продуктивности более удобны, нежели эволюция

But:

Время от времени вырождение, снижение активности и продуктивности удобнее, чем эволюция

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    Thank you very much. I am surprised about point (2). Quick google searches show that "более удобны, чем" іs far more commonly written (10x as often) than "более удобны, нежели". Not that google indicates correctness, but at least acceptability. So I'm surprised that you say "чем" doesn't work with analytic forms.
    – supergra
    Jan 15 '14 at 19:09
  • I don't know the rule, I'm only saying what feels natural for me.
    – Olga
    Jan 16 '14 at 8:54
  • It seems theres a heuristic rule: if you use comparative degree чем fits better, if its superlative degree нежели is better. Jan 20 '14 at 18:17
  • Superlative (e.g. самый красивый) cannot be used with any of them.
    – Olga
    Jan 21 '14 at 13:58
  • @supergra you are right. "Время от времени вырождение, снижение активности и продуктивности более удобны, чем эволюция" is totally OK. I disagree with the second point.
    – Anixx
    Sep 13 '15 at 21:31
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Not only "нежели" is more bookish, like @YellowSky had already mentioned, but is is also cannot be used in all contexts, even when "high-style" speech is appropriate.

For example, you can not say: "Нежели дурью маяться, сходил бы погулял" (this will sound very unnatural even in "bookish" speech) but only "Чем дурью маяться, сходил бы погулял".

Though in past, indeed, those were 100% interchangeable. But nowadays forms like "нежели чем" instead of "прежде чем" are completely out of usage.

Also, it worth to mention a common mistake of modern native speakers - the usage of redundantly complex form "нежели чем" ("Для мужчин рак груди более опасен нежели, чем для женщин"). In most cases it's nothing more than an overkill :)

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