Word Choice – Over Versus More Than

Diane’s Question: “I see this all the time: over 100 people attended the event. I was taught to write ‘more than 100 people attended.’ Are both acceptable?”

BizWritingTip response: The answer to this question relies on tradition rather than grammar and depends on whether you are using Canadian, British, or American English. The Oxford Canadian Dictionary defines more as “existing in a greater or additional quantity.” Over has many meanings including “more than.” It also uses the example of over $50. Therefore, you can interchange the words when indicating “in excess of.” British sources also support this.

Examples (correct Canadian and British style)
We made over $1 million in profit last year.
Over 100 people attended.

However, American style recommends you use “more than” with numbers and never “over.”

Examples (correct American style — also acceptable Canadian and British)
We made more than $1 million in profit last year.
More than 100 people attended.

Apparently, the American displeasure toward using “over” instead of “more than” started in 1877 when William Cullen Bryant was the editor of the New York Evening Post. He refused to let any reporter use “over” before a numeral. Although he never gave a reason, the rule has made its way into many American style guides.

Frankly, I recommend looking over your sentence and picking whichever phrase sounds best.

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