Source: The C Programming Language by Brian W. Kernighan and Dennis M. Ritchie

As we said in the preface to the first edition, C "wears well as one's experience with it grows." With a decade more experience, we still feel that way. We hope that this book will help you to learn C and to use it well.

How do you exactly understand that? I'm especially confused by the adverb more placed in between decade and experience. I would understand it perfectly well if it read with a decade-long experience, but as it stands, the grammar looks a little bit fishy to me for some reason. Please, give me a grammatical breakdown of what's going on. Do you think that decade more is functioning as an adjective and therefore can be hyphenated to show that it is actually an adjective? I'm kind of getting lost here.

3 Answers 3


The authors refer to the decade that passed between the first and the second editions. My understanding of "With a decade more experience, we still..." is "As our experience has grown by a decade, we still..."

A simpler expression would be "With more experience (that we've accumulated), we still...", and to quantify the 'more' they provide "a decade". That's how I read it, anyway.

They don't use "a decade-long" because before the first edition their experience wasn't zero, so now it's not a decade-long but longer by ten years.

As far as hyphenation goes, I am not sure it can be used. However, here is another example of this construct:

“Well, we got a boatload more people coming if you guys need help."

  • 2
    Yes. Another way to say this would have been, "ten more years of experience". "Decade" is just another way of saying "ten years", so "a decade more".
    – Jay
    Commented Sep 8, 2015 at 15:03

I can see two ways to parse this phrase.  Neither parsing considers the word "more" to be an adverb.  Either parsing might smell a little fishy to you.

The phrase starts with "with".  This preposition has an object.  One parsing considers "decade" to be that object, and the other, "experience". 

Let's start with "experience".  That noun can be modified by an adjective, and "more" is a suitable adjective.  That gives us the coherent phrase "with more experience".  In turn, the adjective itself can be modified by an adverb.  This yields phrases such as "with some more experience", "with much more experience", "with considerably more experience", "with slightly more experience", "with enough more experience", and so on.

Here's the fishy part of this parsing: The word "decade" is normally a noun, but in this parsing the phrase "a decade" is used like an adverb and modifies "more".  It tells us how much more experience. 

If calling "decade" an adverb is too fishy for your sensibilities, then we can simply call it a noun and consider it to be the object of the preposition.  The phrase "with a decade" is a sensible and coherent phrase.  The phrase "more experience" is also a good phrase.  "More experience", however, is a noun phrase. 

Here's the fishy part of this parsing: The noun phrase "more experience" modifies the noun "decade".  "More experience" tells us the kind or nature of the decade.  Normally, we would use a preposition to establish that relationship.  The phrase "with a decade of more experience" is a sensible and coherent phrase which expresses the intended meaning.  This parsing suggests an elided preposition or a zero preposition: "with a decade [of] more experience". 

I don't see a way to parse the phrase in question without using something that smells fishy. 

Your proposed "with a decade-long experience" phrase is also coherent and sensible, but it means something different than the original phrase.  The authors' opinion of C remains the same even after an additional decade of experience -- a greater amount of experience than they had when they wrote the first edition.


With...experience : prepositional phrase.

With ... {more} experience : more is an adjective modifying experience

With {a decade} more experience : a decade expresses the degree of the moreness; it puts a number on it (it would have been in the instrumental case back when English was a declined language [more by a decade]). Nowadays, I suppose it would be considered an adposition. (?)

Now that we can add the experience of these past ten years to our original experience, we still feel that way...

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