Published September 3, 2019
Today ’ s lesson is based on a question I got from a reader , requesting clarification on the status of ‘ than ’ and ‘but’ in the expression ‘ have no option than / but to go there ’. The grammatical structure here is one that confuses a lot of people too . So pervasive is the scare that exam bodies such as the West African Examinations Council and the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board usually include questions on it in their exams.
Indeed , related to the construction is the one that brings ‘ when ’ and ‘than ’ in conflict in a clause like ‘ Hardly / No sooner had he gone out ( when / than ) she returned . WAEC and JAMB customers can bear me witness on this . May we not have cause to become ‘customers ’ to the dreaded examiners. Put differently , may every candidate be their client only once and for all!
In the main question , some experts have argued that ‘than ’ and ‘but ’ can be correct but you must always watch out for certain pointers or indicators before using either . According to them , for ‘than ’ to be correct , there has to be ‘ other ’ in the clause . On the other hand, they say you use ‘ but’ when ‘other ’ is not included .
He has no other option than to go there .
Governor Sanwo – Olu has no other option than to honour Alhaji Lateef Jakande .
He has no option but to go there .
Governor Sanwo – Olu has no option but to honour Alhaji Lateef Jakande .
Such people argue that both clauses are correct because ‘other ’ only collocates with ‘than ’.
But there seems to be a problem here, pertaining to the use of ‘ other’ and ‘ than ’ to express the intended sense .
As the Language Controller at ‘The PUNCH ’,
Mr Seth Akintoye , quickly noted in a conversation I had with him on Monday , there is hardly any major authority that supports “ no other option than ”. What authorities agree on is “no option but to ” . I will refer to what the dictionaries say to buttress the argument.
For example , the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English lists :
1 . have no option but to
2 . have no other choice except to
Cambridge Dictionary says :
1 . have few options except to
2 . have no / little option but to
Oxford Advanced Learner ’s Dictionary says :
1 . I have no option but to
2 . Not much option but to
What this suggests is that you should be wary of the ‘no other option than ’ patter . Indeed , it is better to avoid it in your speeches and writings .
Consider these examples as the standard:
She has no option but to travel tomorrow .
She has few options except to travel tomorrow .
She has little option but to travel tomorrow .
She has not much option but to travel tomorrow .
She has no other choice except to travel tomorrow .
Hardly had he / No sooner had he left ( when /than ) …
To choose between ‘ when ’ and ‘than ’ in the above , you also have to be sure whether the sentence is introduced by ‘ Hardly ’ or ‘ No sooner had/ did’. When introduced by ‘Hardly ’ you go for ‘when ’ but ‘than ’ when it begins with ‘No sooner had / did’:
Hardly had the driver entered the bus than the passengers began to smell alcohol . ( Wrong )
No sooner had the driver entered the bus when the passengers began to smell alcohol . ( Wrong )
Hardly had the driver entered the bus when the passengers began to smell alcohol . ( Correct)
No sooner had the driver entered the bus than the passengers began to smell alcohol . ( Correct)
What you should thus observe is that the structures maintain a kind of parallelism and collocation that should not be disrupted . Each of the words collocates with its partner the way ‘but ( also )’ collocates with ‘not only ’ in:
Simbi not only sat for the exam , she did well in it. (Wrong )
Simbi not only sat for the exam , she also did well in it. (Correct)
Simbi not only sat for the exam , but she also did well in it. (Correct)
Copyright PUNCH .