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The following is a sorting question from "Great Writing 5"(National Geographic)

to persuade/ it can be/ higher taxes/ to vote for/ difficult/ citizens/ extremely

In the given sentences, the answer sheet says that correct placement of "extremely" is in sentence 1. I believe that 1 is correct. However, my student questioned if 2 could also be correct. Is it possible to place the adverb "extremely" before "higher taxes"? I think it is not good because 'higher taxes' is a kind of noun phrase and adverb does not emphasize noun phrase. But I'm not sure my position is correct or not. Please let me know whether (2) is OK or not. And if it is true, would it be possible to do the same with adverbs like "significantly" or "substantially"?

  1. It can be extremely difficult to persuade citizens to vote for higher taxes.

  2. It can be difficult to persuade citizens to vote for extremely higher taxes

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    It depends on which adjective you're trying to modify, "difficult" or "higher".
    – BillJ
    Feb 10 at 14:36
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    Extremely higher doesn't sound idiomatic (though extremely high would be). Feb 10 at 16:24
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    I don't think it's syntactically valid to modify adverbial extremely before adverbial higher. If you want to be emphatic, the intensifier needs to modify an adjective modifying the relevant noun: extremely high taxes. But that loses information from the original text, which references higher taxes than current taxes. Feb 10 at 16:25
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    For the second one: much higher taxes sounds better.
    – Lambie
    Feb 10 at 16:26
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    You have a choice. You can either say "extremely high taxes" or "much higher taxes". You can't really use "extremely" with the comparative "higher" in this context. It's a bit unusual, and not idiomatic, at least in this particular context. There may be some exceptions, but such usage is extremely rare. I suspect some may consider it ungrammatical.
    – Billy Kerr
    Feb 10 at 16:46

1 Answer 1

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'Higher' is a comparative adjective. It is used to make a direct comparison between two objects. It makes sense to talk about proposed 'higher taxes' because they are higher in comparison to the current tax rates.

It doesn't make sense to say "extremely higher". 'Extremes' are the highest or lowest extremities of any scale. 'Extremely high' taxes would mean that they were among the absolute highest anywhere, so it would, in effect, be being compared to all taxes, and the use of a comparative term is not appropriate.

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