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Continuing my mission to understand how people can learn Japanese with Duolingo (I'm sure it's not possible) I was posed the following sentence:

My current apartment is more spacious than my previous place.

You are given pieces from which to construct the Japanese equivalent. Without looking too hard at the pieces given I constructed this sentence:

前のアパートより今のほうは広いです。

It irked me that I only had a は and no が among the pieces but I figured that, given the right context, は would work. I pressed submit only to be told I was wrong. The official answer was:

今のアパートは前の所より広いです。

Past experience shows that Duolingo is reasonably good at accepting alternative answers, so this leaves me wondering whether there is a problem with my answer. Does using は really make it unnatural? Perhaps it didn't like me using ほう instead of 所? Am I missing some other grammar error?

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It seems that when you mean "A is more X than B" with the formula AのほうがBよりX, ほうが is completely a fixed element in this idiom and not replaceable with は. The argument Bより, however, can be followed by an extra topic particle: ~よりは, ~よりも. Alternatively, using another noun instead of ほう will make the sentence valid, such as:

前のアパートより今のところは広いです。

But it is applying the AはBよりX formula.

Of course, ~のほう can take は when it is not coupled with ~より, even if they appear in the same sentence.

(昔の家は実家より狭かったが、)今のほうは実家より広い。

This is also an AはBよりX instance, with ほう intended to contrast with 昔の家.

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The sentence 前のアパートより今のほうは広いです has two issues, I think. One being that you are comparing アパート with 今, rather than with 今のアパート・今のところ, and the second being that the comparison ~より~のほう, assuming ~のほう is the subject noun-phrase, always takes the nominative case-marker が. It seems to me that using は with the のほう comparison is unnatural, since ~のほう already includes the comparison/contrastive function of は, so marking the subject with が would be more important. I defer to others, though, since I'm not totally sure.

As you have noted, the official answer does not use the のほう construction, so using は as a topic and comparison marker is fine.

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