October 15, 2007

#01-025: The Sooner, the Better

poster from film "The More, The Merrier"
Poster from a 1943 film

Note: Most of our grammar "makes sense," but there are many special constructions that just can't be explained. One of these is in the for, "The ____er, the ___er" or something similar. We can call this a kind of "idiomatic grammar," where we break the rules of grammar for a special effect.

Get Ready: Do you know what "The sooner, the better" means? Or "The more, the merrier"? Have you heard other English sentences like this?

Ron, an American, and his Chinese friend Jen are planning a party:

Ron: So, Jen, when should we have the party?

Jen: Sooner is better!

Ron: Pardon?

Jen: That's an idiom, right?

Ron: Oh! Not exactly... I think you want to say, "The sooner, the better."

Jen: But that doesn't make sense. There's no verb!

Ron: Yes, that's right. This is a special construction.

Jen: How does it work?

Ron: Well, you say "the" and then one comparative, then another "the" and another comparative. The meaning is as you said: comparative is comparative.

Jen: So "the bigger the better" means "Bigger is better," right?

Ron: Right.

Jen: Do we always have to use "better" as the second comparative.

Ron: No, but it's the most common. Try to say this: "More is merrier."

Jen: The... more... the... merrier?

Ron: Right!

Jen: Are there other ways to do this?

Ron: Yeah, there's a slightly longer construction.

Jen: Can you give me an example?

Ron: Sure. One idiomatic expression is, "The bigger they are, the harder they fall." It still starts with "the" and a comparative, but adds a subject and verb.

Jen: Another example, please, that's not an idiom.

Ron: Let's see... my friend from the states is coming to visit at Christmas. So I could say, "The closer Christmas gets, the more excited I get."

Jen: Oh, I get it. So about our party: The better we plan, the more fun it is?

Ron: Wow, Jen! Good job.

Jen: It's nothing, really. The more I do, the easier it gets.

Ron: Stop! Enough!


Read more: https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/grammar/british-grammar/comparison-adjectives-bigger-biggest-more-interesting

Practice: Try to turn these sentences into the "the... [blank], the... [blank]" construction.

  1. Earlier is better.
  2. Redder is sweeter (like a strawberry).
  3. Cleaner is healthier.
  4. Slower is safer.
  5. Steadier is better.
  6. If I work harder, I get more tired.
  7. If you start sooner, you'll finish earlier.
  8. If you eat less, you'll get slimmer.
  9. If you have to work less, you can relax more.
  10. If you produce more, you'll get paid better.

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for October 15, 2007

This lesson received 4601 visits on my old site between January, 2012, and June, 2021.

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. The earlier, the better; 2. The redder, the sweeter; 3. The cleaner, the healthier; 4. The slower, the safer; 5. The steadier, the better; 6. The harder I work, the more tired I get; 7. The sooner you start, the earlier you'll finish; 8. The less you eat, the slimmer you'll get; 9. The less you have to work, the more you can relax; 10. The more you produce, the better you'll get paid. [Note that in 1-5, the comma is not absolutely necessary. You can write them "The earlier the better," etc.]