a) The more I study, the less I learn.

b) More I study, less I learn.

Could we rewrite the sentence shown under the letter a) in the form shown under the letter b) without breaking any grammatical rule? If not, why not?

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    You can't rewrite the sentence as you have in the form in b without breaking any grammatical rules, but I can't exactly explain why (hence comment rather than answer). Jan 31, 2013 at 20:53
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    This question has been asked on ELU, and has what I consider to be an excellent answer. But it's a special case of what I think is a "frozen" construction which I don't think should necessarily be posed on ELL, so I intend to raise the issue on meta before deciding whether to upvote or downvote the question. Jan 31, 2013 at 23:39
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    @Carlo_R.: After all that, I've decided it is a good question! Have an upvote! (I don't have the rep here to see if it's the first, or if I just moved the net figure into positive territory!) The main thing for learners to take away is This is a one-off construction. Learning it won't help with any other construction, and it's not something you need to reproduce yourself. Feb 1, 2013 at 3:57

2 Answers 2


This construction is an idiom which is not governed by any general grammatical rule, but is in effect a rule all by itself. Its structure is

The [x-ER], the [x-ER]

where the two [x-ER]s are parallel expressions in the comparative grade.

The [more], the [merrier]

[x-ER] need not be a simple adjective; it can be a more complex (or compound) phrase or full clause, with the comparative fronted:

The [higher they rise], the [harder they fall]
The [more effort I put into something I care about], the [more satisfaction I get out of it]

But the thes are essential components; they cannot ordinarily be omitted. To be sure, you may hear someone drop them in speech, under the pressure of strong emotion (real or simulated):

Crap. Harder I work, less I get done. Crap.

But that should not be done in writing, unless what you're writing is dialogue.

As this explains, the thes in this expression aren't the ordinary definite article but ‘worn-down’ forms of an Old English pronoun — which is why the ordinary rules don’t apply.


As described in this answer, you may rephrase it into if-then construct:

If I study more, then I learn less

This answer suggests that yes, it is governed by a rule called parallel comparative.

See also Google search for ELU; it returns 2,260 hits.

  • Is "any grammatical rule" correct, or it should be "any grammatical rules"?
    – user114
    Jan 31, 2013 at 21:11
  • @Carlo_R. Did you mean the phrase itself? 18 million hits Jan 31, 2013 at 21:15
  • No, I mean if I should have used "rule" in plural form, or not.
    – user114
    Jan 31, 2013 at 21:18
  • @Carlo_R. Exactly, "any plural or singular" is the Google query above. Jan 31, 2013 at 21:23
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    @Carlo_R.: You are mistaken. There is no grammatical rule [are no grammatical rules!] in play here. Alicia's plural and your singular are both perfectly valid, and in practice I would hazard a guess that in this exact context, plural is in fact the more likely choice. Which is probably why Alicia changed it (without necessarily even noticing! :) Jan 31, 2013 at 23:30

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