Hello. Today we will start with a question for you: When you practice English more, do you remember more?
If your answer is yes, one way you can say this is:
The more I practice, the more I remember.
But suppose your answer is no. Maybe you have been practicing more but seem to be remembering less. You could say this:
The more I practice, the less I remember.
Both examples show a cause and an effect. They show that an increase or decrease of something causes an increase or decrease of something else.
In English, there are a few ways to express cause and effect relationships. One way is with a kind of comparison called a “correlative comparative.” It is also called a “the/the comparative” and that is what we will call it today.
These comparatives have many structures. And, on our program today, we will explore a few. Keep in mind that you don't need to memorize any of them.
Short and simple
To begin: The shortest, simplest structure is made of just four words. Suppose, for instance, you are having a barbecue today. Your best friend is coming to the event. But he asks if he can also bring a friend of his. You say:
Sure! The more, the merrier.
“The more, the merrier” is a popular expression. It means an activity is more enjoyable with more people. It can also mean a greater amount of something is better.
If you were to say this expression as a complete sentence, it might sound like this:
The more (there are), the merrier (it is).
But the subjects and verbs were left out of both parts of the sentence because their meaning is already understood.
Next, suppose someone at the barbecue requests a glass of lemonade. You ask her how much ice she would like in her drink. And, she answers by saying:
A lot, please! The colder, the better.
She is saying that she enjoys the taste of very cold lemonade.
The structure the + comparative adjective + the better is a very common one in the/the comparatives. For instance:
How do you like your coffee?
The stronger, the better.
Which car should we rent?
The cheaper, the better.
The next structure we’ll explore adds nouns. Watch what happens when we do this for the example about the cold drink:
The colder the lemonade, the better the taste.
The speaker is expressing the same meaning as “the colder, the better,” but with a little more detail.
Notice again that the verbs are missing. That is almost always the case when the understood verb is “be.” (The full statement would be, “The colder the lemonade is, the better the taste is” but we do not say it this way.)
In addition, often the second noun is not necessary because it is understood. So the phrase usually ends with the words “the better,” like this:
The colder the lemonade, the better.
Another example of this structure is a fairly common expression. Have a listen:
The bigger the risk, the greater the reward.
It means when people take a bigger risk, their reward will be greater.
Now, let’s look at a few longer structures that are made of two clauses.
The first one deals with actions. Suppose you are talking to someone but he or she is ignoring much of what you’re saying. Listen to an example:
The more I talk, the less you listen.
Notice that both sides of the sentence are clauses: They each have their own subject and verb. In the first, the subject and verb are “I talk.” In the second, the subject and verb are “you listen.”
Here’s another one: Imagine that a group of people traveled overseas together. They had a good time. But before the trip, their visas had arrived late. This made them more anxious as each day passed. You could express it this way:
The longer they waited, the more anxious they became.
Notice this sentence is also in the past tense. Past and present tenses are common in these comparatives.
With the/the comparative clauses, you can also talk about two things, so the structure changes a little. Let’s take an example you can probably relate to:
The more time you spend with VOA Learning English, the more money you can save on English classes.
In this example, we are showing a relationship between time and money.
Here's another example:
The more games the U.S. women’s soccer team won, the more attention they got on social media.
This example shows a relationship between game wins and social media attention.
We have talked today about the/the structures that mirror each other. But not all such comparatives follow a mirroring structure. In fact, many do not. Here’s one example:
The more music he performs, the better.
Here, the first clause “The more music he performs” uses the structure for comparing things, the second half uses the simplified “the better” from earlier in the program.
Well, that’s our time for this week. Again, avoid trying to memorize the structures. Instead, listen for the/the comparatives in everyday speech. And, try using them to show a cause and an effect. The more you use them, the easier they will become.
I’m Alice Bryant.
Alice Bryant wrote this story for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
Here are just a few structure examples from today’s program.
The cheaper, the better
the + comparative
The bigger the risk, the greater the reward.
the + comparative + the + noun
The longer they waited,
the + comparative + subject + verb
Words in This Story
practice – v. to do something again and again in order to become better at it
memorize – v. to learn something so well that you are able to remember it
barbecue – n. an outdoor meal or party at which food is cooked on a barbecue
phrase – n. a group of two or more words that express a single idea but does not form a complete sentence
clause – n. a part of a sentence with its own subject and verb
anxious – adj. afraid or nervous especially about what may happen
mirror – v. to be very similar to something