What verb form follows than? Which would be considered correct:

(a) It's better than buying that store.
(b) It's better than to buy at that store.

And what is the function of than in the sentence above?

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Since (semantically speaking) there's a strong connection between the after-the-than phrase and the subject pronoun "it," you must conclude that if "It" refers to a gerund (since very few infinitives function as subjects) then "buy" must also be a gerund. If "it" refers to an infinitive, the same applies.

To wit:

Buying a car from her is better than buying a car from him.

To stay up until all hours is better than to sleep through all the action.

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Than can function as a preposition or as a conjunction.

"When than is followed by a noun or pronoun, it functions as if it were a preposition. When followed by a clause, it functions as if it were a conjunction." (L.G. Alexander, Longman English Grammar, Longman, 1988.)

According to this description, than in Sentence (a) can be considered a preposition, since buying, a gerund, is the noun form of the verb. It could be paraphrased in this way:

(a) It's better than that.

In sentence (b), than can be considered a conjunction:

(b) It's better than (it is) to buy at that store.

So, both sentences would be correct.

It's important to keep Linda Cahill's thoughts about parallelism in mind; the referent of "it" in "it's better" should determine whether to use the gerund or infinitive form in a sentence like this.

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