Grandma's Tales

November 9, 2006

Grammar 13 – Less of “more”, please!

Filed under: Language — Geeta Padmanabhan @ 9:54 pm

This appeared in chennaionline today.

Chennai, Nov 9: Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi today said though the law and order situation in the state was satisfactory, it could be maintained in a much more better manner. “For the present, law and order situation is satisfactory. But since I think it can be maintained in [a] much more better manner, I have been frequently meeting senior officers,” he told reporters.

The CM, one can safely assume, did not speak in English. So this is the translation of what he said. And English suffers (silently!) in this translation.

The problem is this. In Tamil, we use a lot of words to emphasise a point. (“In Indian languages, we have a tendency to beat about the bush,” a friend told me.) The original statement about the law and order situation might have had words for “definitely”, “much”, “can” and “improve”. In English all you need is “It could be better”. The word “maintained” is a clever addition. If it is satisfactory, why should you “maintain it in a better manner”?

Grammatically, (as opposed to logically) the sentence is translation should have been “Law and order is satifactory, but it could be maintained in a much better manner”. [Why am I thinking of George Orwell?]

We don’t know if the writer found the law and order situation satisfactory, but he/she certainly was not happy with the emphasis in the English sentence. “Much better manner”? No, no. That won’t do at all. There were so many words in the Tamil version. How could I possibly write less? Ah ha. Let me add “more”! There, that does it! I got the the right emphasis now!

May be. But the phrase is wrong. There is no “more better” Just as there is no “more cleverer”, “more neater”, “more sweeter”, “more dumber”… Here’s why.

Often adjectives (good, clever, neat, sweet, dumb) are asked to compare two things, people, situations … “The weather in Chennai is cooler than I expected!“, “This street is narrower than the next”, “I am taller than my mom!”. Adjectives, being clever, know what a dangerous mission this is. They know comparisons can sometimes put us in a spot. Try telling your wife, “My family would never do anything like this!”

So adjectives go out in disguise. They become better, cleverer, sweeter, dumber… When they are longish, they hire a helper to make their meaning clear. “More beautiful”, “more satisfactory”, “more plausible” …

The point is: Either adjectives take on “er” and change themselves or send “more” before they appear on the scene. They don’t do both. They don’t have to. “Better” is good enough to show the comparison. “Law and order could be maintained better (than what it is now)” is clear in its meaning. When the adjective is already changed to show comparison, we do not need the additional “more”. The comparison-showing “more” is called in only when the adjective does not change. As in “more convenient“.

Of course there are those rare adjectives like pleasant that are used in both avatars. “The weather is pleasanter than I expected” and “The weather is more pleasant than I expected.” But when “more” is used, the adjective remains pleasant. 🙂

I don’t know what it will take to “maintain law and order better”. There must be many ways to do that. Adding “more” to better” and coming out with the faulty “can be maintained much more better” is not one of them.



  1. Hey Ma’m!
    Long time since I caught up with your blog and I’m so glad that I did!It’s way too informative and a pleasure to read and believe it or not the English classes actually helped to fire that inquistive spark in me!(The dormant IQ section actually woke up!)So Thank You! About this blog entry all I can say is Hats off to you Ma’m! Very keen observation powers!

    Comment by Karishma.D.Dodeja — November 10, 2006 @ 7:17 pm | Reply

  2. Hi Karishma,
    Happy to see you again. Thanks for those wonderful words. Keep writing!

    Comment by Geeta Padmanabhan — November 11, 2006 @ 8:49 pm | Reply

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