In Russian we can easily invert comparative sentences but I'm having doubts about whether it is possible in English.

In Russian this works due to different comparatives "Чем" и "Тем".

  • Чем выше ты взлетаешь, тем больнее падать.
  • Падать тем больнее, чем выше ты взлетаешь.

We place the second part in the beginning and place the verb (or noun) before the comparative.

I doubt that inverting in such a way is possible in English.

  • The higher you fly, the more painful it is to fall.

What technique should I use to place "the more painful it is to fall" in the beginning?

  • 1
    Just put it in the beginning: "The more painful it is to fall, the higher you fly." – Robusto Jun 19 '17 at 13:31
  • Will it work that way around? – SovereignSun Jun 19 '17 at 13:31
  • Absolutely. It has a different emphasis, though. – Robusto Jun 19 '17 at 13:32
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    More than a different emphasis: it has a different meaning. The point of the question was that in Russian the two halves are marked differently, so that even if you turn them round for emphasis, it doesn't change which is being regarded as the independent and which the dependent clause. That is no so in English. – Colin Fine Jun 19 '17 at 13:46
  • In English all "the..the" comparatives mean ‘by that much’? – SovereignSun Jun 19 '17 at 14:01

I can't think of a way of doing it while preserving the structure. You would need to say something like:

It gets/is more painful to fall, the higher you fly.

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  • So only a change of structure is possible in this case? – SovereignSun Jun 19 '17 at 13:58
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    @SovereignSun I agree with this generalization, and this phrasing is also very natural. (The comma is discretionary.) One must reject Robusto's inversion "The more painful it is to fall, the higher you fly" in the comments above because it means that height is a function of pain, which is the opposite of the intended meaning. Similarly, Tᴚoɯɐuo's inversions are not synonymous. Perhaps in the poetry of John Milton's era (not to mention Milton's looseness of syntax) one could understand it to mean the same thing as your original sentence, but it would not occur to anyone to read it that way. – Luke Sawczak Jun 19 '17 at 14:48
  • @Luke Sawczak: I think you're overstating your position when you say "to anyone", and we don't need to go back as far as Milton to find this patterm. I'm confident there are many 19th century attestations of it. I will concede the core point you're making, however, which is that it is decidedly literary nowadays, and not the sort of thing we'd find in an econ textbook. But depending on what the statement is about, and the register in which it is made, the inversion is licit. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jun 20 '17 at 13:55

The construction the [comparative extent A], the [comparative extent B] is used to imply logical consequences on B, caused by A. Therefore you cannot just reverse the order and retain the same meaning, because that would imply that the causation is reversed.

In your example, reversing the order to:

The more painful it is to fall, the higher you fly.

implies that a more painful fall causes you to fly higher, not that a more painful fall was caused by flying higher. In order to retain the meaning when reordering the sentence, you need to rephrase it to make the direction of causality clear, the example given in Colin Fine's answer (It gets/is more painful to fall, the higher you fly.) is a good option.

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    It's true that the inverted sentence seems clumsy. You can smooth it out with some rewording, though: Falling is more painful when you are flying higher. – J.R. Jun 19 '17 at 23:02

It's a bit difficult to do because that particular construct has a very strong cause/effect ordering in English.

If I were to try to reverse the order, I would change the wording:

It is more painful to fall if you fly high.

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The bigger they are, the harder they fall.

They fall the harder the bigger they are.

... the more painful it is to fall the higher you fly.


Son, said Daedalus, the more difficult it is to ascend the heavier you are, and the more painful it is to fall the higher you fly.

P.P.S. I'll concede the point made by @1006a, that a contemporary speaker might be confused by it, but it's not as strange as it looks at first glance. We often use a similar ordering:

It gets more dangerous the higher you climb.

and from there it's just a hop and a skip to

It is all the more dangerous the higher you climb.

and we can reposition so-called "dummy it", resulting in

The more dangerous it is, grasshopper, the higher you climb.

It's that repositioning of "it" which is causing the parsing difficulty for the contemporary ear.

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  • Shouldn't there be a comma between two comparative clauses? And I see in your second example the same technique we use in Russian. – SovereignSun Jun 19 '17 at 14:00
  • Commas are discretionary. books.google.com/… or books.google.com/… – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jun 19 '17 at 14:01
  • In other words, some grammar books tell us that a comma is required. This is redundant right? – SovereignSun Jun 19 '17 at 14:03
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    It's offering opinion as though it were dogma. There's nothing wrong with a comma there, just as there is nothing wrong without one. Punctuation is a matter of convention in many instances. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jun 19 '17 at 14:05
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    Note that "They fall harder the bigger they are", however, would be okay. I believe the problem is the definite article in the first half. This is also why @ColinFine's version works: it switches to the standard comparative. It seems that if one can find a way to word the consequence as a standard comparative, which as far as I can tell requires making it an independent clause, one can put it first. – Luke Sawczak Jun 19 '17 at 14:50

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