I am reading Kane and Abel by Jeffrey Archer where I found the following sentence:

He spat into the fire, the more precisely to express his opinion of the child's parentage.

Is "the more precisely" an Adverb Phrase? And what is its function? Is it to modify the non-finite infinitive clause - "to express his opinion of the child's parentage".

And the structure of the Adverb Phrase? Is it - the head (precisely) and modifier, a Determinative Phrase (the more)?

1 Answer 1


It's a somewhat archaic adverbial phrase, modifying to express*. Most modern English speakers would probably say:

He spat into the fire to more precisely express his opinion of the child's parentage.

Nowadays this kind of syntax is rarely used outside of literature, with only the better to notably surviving in COCA - likely due to the iconic exchange from Little Red Riding Hood:

- But Grandmother! What big teeth you have!

- The better to eat you with, my dear!

* The use in LRRH seems to me to suggest that it modifies the infinitive on its own (to eat you better with them, rather than to eat you with them better), but I don't have a good source for that.

  • the more [adverb] to, is not necessarily archaic, which is a very strong word.
    – Lambie
    Commented May 15, 2021 at 13:42
  • It sounds slightly fancy or old-fashioned, but it's definitely still in use and widely understood.
    – A. B.
    Commented May 31, 2021 at 10:03

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