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Could someone please let me know whether "by far" can be used comparatively. Actually, almost all dictionary examples have used it in a superlative comparison, however I'm quite sure I have heard native speakers use it in comparative structures! Is it a common mistake by native speakers in informal speech or it is something grammatically natural?

Also, it is worth mentioning that I could not find any English grammar rule acknowledging this is wrong to use it in comparative constructions.

Examples:

  1. Superlative: It is by far the best car in the world. (Which is perhaps the most common use of the term.)
  2. Comparative: This restaurant is by far better than that one.

As a non-native one I cannot find anything wrong with it, but I have no clue why no dictionary has used it in comparative form?

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The two "natural" sequences (most common first) for this "emphatic" comparative usage are...

1: This restaurant is far better than that one (by far the most common form)
2: This restaurant is better by far than that one (rather "literary" phrasing)

...in this context where ...is by far better than that... is at least "non-idiomatic" (but probably not actually "ungrammatical").


Note that [by] far doesn't directly relate to OP's "superlative / comparative" distinction, which is entirely governed by the choice between best and better. It's just that the syntax of how to use it differs.

2
  • "...is by far better than that... " needs commas, i.e. "...is, by far, better than that... " – chasly - supports Monica Dec 19 '20 at 17:33
  • Only 1 of the first 10 matches for is by far better than that in Google Books has commas. But I think the "natural" position for intensifying by far is AFTER the word better, as per my example #2 above, and the only justification for setting it off by commas is by way of "acknowledging" in the orthography that it's relatively non-idiomatic. Google Ngrams supports my perspective (more so with BrE, but AmE is broadly similar). – FumbleFingers Dec 20 '20 at 14:07

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