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Frank turned his right ear towards the door, the better to hear.

I don't understand the grammar of "the better to hear". Is it elliptical? How should we understand the phrase in this sentence?

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I would say the better to [do X] is an idiom that means in order to [do X] better.

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  • That makes sense. Can you link me to a source(dictionary) to support this? Or can you provide some other examples? – dan Dec 3 '18 at 5:24
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    Here's a link to a dictionary discussing it. collinsdictionary.com/us/dictionary/english/…. Also here's a discussion on these boards that touches on the same topic. ell.stackexchange.com/questions/47976/… – Katy Dec 3 '18 at 5:46
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    I would add from my experience that while it probably wouldn't strike a native speaker as peculiar to hear (it is a repeated phrase in popular children's story Little Red Riding Hood, as another answer points out), I've encountered it far more often in writing than I have in spoken conversation. – Katy Dec 3 '18 at 6:18
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It could be a reference to the story,"Little Red Riding Hood". In which the girl makes the statement to the wolf who is disguised as her grandmother,"My, what big ears you have." To which the wolf responds,"The better to hear you with." Or, it could be a reference to some aspect of the character or person Frank having one ear which works better than the other. Or, it could be a poorly structured sentence.

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  • Yeah, actually Frank's right ear heard better according to previous context. If this is the case, how should we analysis it? – dan Dec 3 '18 at 4:25

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