"Я считаю Пушкина более талантливым поэтом, чем Блок" or "чем Блокa"?

Russian Language Asked on October 4, 2021

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?

4 Answers

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 speakers 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 it means; 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.

Correct answer by Quassnoi on October 4, 2021

Кто-то мог носить фамилию или прозвище Блока, или взять такой псевдоним. Например, в XIX веке был Поль Брока (Paul Brocha), врач и физиолог. Поэтому предложение можно интерпретировать четырьмя разными способами:

  • Я считаю, что Пушкин как поэт талантливее, чем Блок.
  • Я ценю Пушкина как поэта выше, чем его ценил Блок.
  • Я считаю, что Пушкин как поэт талантливее, чем некто по фамилии Блока.
  • Я ценю Пушкина как поэта выше, чем его ценил некто по фамилии Блока.

Ответ: оба варианта верны.

Answered by user31264 on October 4, 2021

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.

Answered by shabunc on October 4, 2021

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.

Answered by user7808407 on October 4, 2021

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