As the problems of poverty grow worse, a class of rabble (Pobel) is thus created.
—Terry Pinkard

I was stumbled across the above piece and when I read the Terry Pinkard's bolded sentence, I wondered if it were common in English language. So I searched on The New York Times to verify if there were other examples of the phrase "poverty grow worse". Before searching there, I expected to find a remarkable number of examples, but I found nothing. Thus I searched on the most important British newspapers, but, again, I found nothing.

This circumstace seems strange to me because the fact that poverty is growing is rather common nowadays.

However, apart further considerations, this question arise from the fact that the words "grow" and "worse", used togheter as above, sound strange and almost contradictory.

Can anybody explain and clarify if I'm imagining things or if I have observed an unusual way to write?

  • 3
    I'd say worsen, but that's probably as archaic as I am. :-)
    – user264
    Mar 11, 2013 at 23:41
  • 1
    Growing worse is common. The former word describes the rate of change: the badness is growing. A positive rate-of-change modifier can modify a negative word, so some people say things like increasingly smaller. At first glance, this appears to be an oxymoron, but it's not: increasingly describes the rate of change in smallness.
    – user230
    Mar 12, 2013 at 3:18
  • Another manner of expressing this is "get worse". (US, northeast) Mar 12, 2013 at 17:51

2 Answers 2


In this case, the word grow is used to mean become. Consider the sentence rewritten:

As the problems of poverty become worse, a class of rabble (Pobel) is thus created.

This is definition #7 of grow here:

To come to be by a gradual process or by degrees; become: grow angry; grow closer.

The reason you didn't find anything when you searched for "poverty grow worse" is that poverty isn't what's growing--the problems are. If you search the NYT website for "problems grow worse" you get quite a few hits, and you have to realize that's not even counting sentences like the one you posted, where problems is separated from grow worse by other descriptors.

  • 1
    I like this answer best because you've not only dealt with the grammar/semantics, but you've also explained why OP might have been misled by his own research. Of course, we native speakers usually have the benefit of knowing what answer we expect to find, so we're more likely to question our methods if we don't get the "right" answer straight away. Mar 11, 2013 at 23:50

It's not particularly common, but it is entirely valid. In this case, the sentence is constructed thusly:

The problems

This is the noun and the core of the sentence.

The problems grow

The (number of) problems is increasing

The problems grow worse

The number of problems is increasing, and the problems as a whole are getting worse

The problems of poverty grow worse

This specifies the problem as being specifically the "problem of poverty". i.e. the sentence as a whole means "The problems of poverty are getting worse".

  • 1
    I don't think you can derive "number of" out of grow by itself and then say that worse adds another clause. The single verb phrase is to grow worse and it means that the severity of the problems is increasing. Whether that is due to an increasing number of problems or to a worsening of the consequences is not specified.
    – Jim
    Mar 12, 2013 at 4:32

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