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Is there a good grammatical reason that my English-as-my-first-language ears finds this sentence incorrect:

I find listening to French extremely harder than reading French.

but this sentence correct:

I find listening to French extremely more hard than reading French.

?

(I'm assuming other native speakers of English would hear the correctness of each sentence similarly to me. It also interests me that "I find listening to French worryingly harder than reading French" sounds okay to me).

  • a better word to use would be "much" :) – tenebris2020 Feb 12 '18 at 12:35
  • @tenebris2020 except it's so much more difficult for me to listen to French than to read it, that I wanted a very, very strong word (such as "extremely") to indicate my despair about it! Maybe I just need more description: "I find listening to French so much harder than reading French, that it often makes me want to cry". There, that works :) – silph Feb 12 '18 at 12:37
  • Yes, that works :) And yes, often an incompatibility between two senses that just can't be collocated—but we want to use them both—requires expanding the sentence/utterance. – tenebris2020 Feb 12 '18 at 12:38
  • You could say 'extraordinarily much harder' to get across your frustration. – Jelila Feb 12 '18 at 14:12
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    As a native AmE speaker, I find that both of the variants "extremely harder" and "extremely more hard" sound incorrect to me. If I were speaking casually, I'd probably say, "soooo much harder" with a great deal of emphasis on "so". If I were writing more formally, I'd use something like "indescribably harder." – Canadian Yankee Feb 12 '18 at 15:41
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I don't think the reason is purely a grammatical one. For one, sentences don't sound right when the other version is more widespread.

Then there's semantics. The word "extreme" has a sense of absoluteness, superlativeness, and "adj. + er" is a comparative form, so there is a contradiction here right off the bat. This is why "worryingly harder" sounds OK—there is no superlative sense here to clash with the comparative form.

But then the question is, why does the second version (with "more hard") sound acceptable? I think that this is because the analytical form (two words instead of modifying one word with a suffix) mitigates the sense of comparativeness. This is an actual phenomenon that gets discussed by linguists in my language—there will be differences of degree of meaning depending on whether the analytical or the synthetical form is used. (Both of my native languages also have both an analytical and a synthetical form for the comparative/superlative form of adjectives.) A synthetical form has a more "concentrated" meaning; in an analytical form, it becomes a bit "diluted". And then it simply comes down to the feeling that a competent speaker would have about one form or another, because there is no, um, mathematically stringent logic to why one would be different from the other. They are both comparative. But, since the comparativeness hasn't vanished, you are really better off without the word "extremely". If you want to show just how much harder it is for you to listen than to read French, expand your sentence and say, "it just kills me", or "drives me crazy", or something.

Finally, by way of a general observation (on the basis of my native language/s), no, you should not expect that your feeling of correctness will always coincide with another native speaker's feeling of correctness. Editors fight over word and syntax choices all the time.

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    You are right about extremely. You can show that it's the absolute-ness that's the problem, rather than the adverb-ness, by replacing it by slightly, which then makes perfect sense. The term for this is gradeable: slightly is, and extremely isn't. So you can say very slightly, but you can't say very extremely. A non-gradeable adverb doesn't work with a comparative of an adjective. – JavaLatte Feb 12 '18 at 13:28
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I don't think that there is any real difference between extremely harder and extremely more. In both cases, you are combining a non-gradeable adverb with a comparative. The real solution is to use a gradeable adverb like much ... and because it's gradeable, you can apply futher adverbs like very to emphasize your point

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You can say 'extremely hard' or 'much harder' - but you can't mix the two into 'extremely harder'!

Why? ~ Because 'harder' has a sense of movement - the hardness is increasing whereas 'extremely' suggests that you - reached the limit - reached the extreme - hit the wall - and... stopped.

So that's why they sound wierd or wrong when mixed together - it's the conflict between movement and the movement is over which sounds incongruent.

Both of your sentences are grammatically incorrect by the way, in my view, but you might hear the second one in spoken language.

Correct examples could be:

"I find listening to French much harder than reading French."

"I find listening to French extremely hard, compared to reading French."

Note: In the second example, I added 'compared to' to replace the 'than', so that we could use your 'extremely' without having to use the (incorrect) 'harder'.

As 'harder' is a word that already carries the meaning of comparison (in the 'er' - which means 'getting more so') - without the 'er' we are missing that element, and so need to then say explicitly that comparison is going on.

The reason why 'worryingly harder' works - is because they are both going on - both 'worrying' and 'harder' carry a sense of movement - so there is no conflict there!

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