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From the anime Noir, Episode 2.

Context: The husband comes home and his wife and son greet him outside.
Wife: おかえりなさい。今日は早いのね?
Husband: ああ、思ったより早く仕事が終わってね。

The wife's line, I get. The husband's line.....(????). Is he saying that "from thinking, my job is finished."...? I really don't understand what role より is playing in the sentence. Or even what it means.

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"A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar" seems to indicate that the way the verb 思う combines with より is an exception: "Either a noun phrase or a sentence precedes yori. When verbs precede yori, they are usually nonpast. However, there are a few cases where past tense verbs are used, as in その試験は思ったよりやさしかった。" –  ogicu8abruok Mar 6 '12 at 3:10
    
@ogicu8abruok: Please change your comment to an answer. Thank you. –  dotnetN00b Mar 6 '12 at 3:13
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2 Answers

up vote 12 down vote accepted

I think it means:

"Yeah, I finish(ed) [work/my job/the job] earlier than (I) expected."

思ったより早く = "earlier than one expected" or "more early than one expected"

See also 思ったより at Space ALC for more examples.

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"A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar" seems to indicate that the way the verb 思う combines with より is an exception:

Either a noun phrase or a sentence precedes yori. When verbs precede yori, they are usually nonpast. However, there are a few cases where past tense verbs are used, as in その試験は思ったよりやさしかった。 (The exam was easier than I thought.)

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I don't know if it's an exception, but I think it's a notable case. If you change 思ったより to 思うより it has a different meaning, in this case その試験は思うよりやさしい would be "that exam is easier than one would think" or similar I believe. –  cypher Mar 6 '12 at 4:44
    
That doesn't seem much different to その試験は思ったよりやさしい = that exam is easier than one expected. –  dotnetN00b Mar 6 '12 at 13:24
    
@cypher, see above. –  dotnetN00b Mar 6 '12 at 15:17
    
@dotnetN00b hmm... I asked some people about this, and they said that 思うより is rarely used compared to 思ったより, so maybe there is something more to this. One person said 思うより might be used when telling friends that the test is easier than you'd expect, e.g. 明日の試験はあなたが思うよりやさしいと思うよ, but that 思っているより may be better than 思うより there. 試験は思ったよりやさしい-> you're currently taking an exam that's easier than you expected; 試験は思ったよりやさしかった -> the exam is finished and was easier than you expected. I think "I [expected/thought...]" and "would [expect/think]" may often be interchangeable. –  cypher Mar 7 '12 at 2:58
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思ったより would imply a clear subject, e.g., 'easier than I thought' or 'easier than you thought', etc. It's specific because it's referring to an actual 'event' (the 'event' being that you thought it would be hard). On the other hand, 思うより is a general statement. It could mean 'easier than you think', but it could be interpreted as 'easier than people think'. It's more hypothetical than actual. –  Bathrobe Mar 8 '12 at 13:21
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