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Consider the two sentences below:

(1) 私のほうが田中さんよりよく飲む。(I drink more than Mr. Tanaka.)

(2) 私はビールより酒のほうをよく飲む。(I drink more sake than beer.)

I think the pattern for the second one is a reverse of the first to put the direct object in closer proximity to the verb so the sentence feels smoother.

EDIT: By "reverse" I meant "reverse of each other" as opposed to "reverse of the "correct" construction". And I also learned that ほう precedes より by default in sentences involving comparison except when there is a direct object marked by を. (I may be wrong so please don't hesitate to correct me)

(Question) But if it is not a direct object, does it have any difference in meaning or nuance?

i.e. Instead of (1), I change the sentence to:

(1') 田中さんより私のほうがよく飲む。

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(2) is not reversed at all. The direct object is in closer proximity to the verb, so that is the original (natural) position. I don't see how the discussion on (2) connects to (1) and (1'). –  sawa Aug 11 '11 at 16:04
    
@sawa, I observed that より precedes ほう for (2) and (1'). I learned a "default" structure where ほう precedes より, and was wondering if it made a difference if the sentence was rearranged. –  Flaw Aug 11 '11 at 16:11
    
You are mixing comparison of the subject (1, 1') and comparison of the direct object (2). They have different structures. Whether the order with ほう preceding is the default or not depends on which structure you are talking about. –  sawa Aug 11 '11 at 16:22
    
oh so even though ほう and より are used, (1) and (2) are distinct patterns, and cannot be compared. What happens in the case of (1) vs (1') then? –  Flaw Aug 11 '11 at 16:27
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1 Answer

up vote 2 down vote accepted

Depending on whether you put の方 or より before, you emphasise on one or the other. It's natural to say first the most important thing, so:

In (1) you are the topic of the sentence, you are the one who drinks most.

In (1') Tanaka is the topic. As far as Kobayashi is concerned, no one knows. But at least for now, what's important is that Tanaka drinks less than you, and that's why you said より first.

In (2), it's often natural (in Japanese) to have your object not too far from your verb. So you start by saying you're comparing (より), and then you have "I drink" + near object "sake". By creating a (2'), you could have a nuance too (as above), but I think that this order in (2) is the most natural for proper communication.

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Linguistically, these are called scrambled phrases, and are (syntactically and semantically) different from topic. You can topicalize a phrase independent of scrambilng. 私のほうが田中さんよりはよく飲む, 私は田中さんよりよく飲む, 田中さんよりは私のほうがよく飲む。, 田中さんより私はよく飲む。. So I don't think your explanation is right. –  sawa Aug 12 '11 at 16:47
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