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I have an eight-month-old daughter. Her experiments in mobility led me to contemplate phrases like

the dirtier and messier, the better.

What happens if one (but not both) of the adjectives before the comma is replaced with a word that forms a comparative with "more" rather than the suffix -er? For example, replace "messy" with "dangerous." Neither of the following sound quite satisfactory to my ear:

the dirtier and more dangerous, the better
the more dirty and dangerous, the better

Is one of these actually correct? Is there some other solution that isn't coming to mind?

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I dunno, but I do love this grammatical construction. When I first read about it I was astonished that English actually has custom grammar for expressing strong statistical correlation—and that I had never realized this before. Trivia: the the in this construction is actually etymologically unrelated to the article the. – Jason Orendorff Apr 7 '11 at 5:52
up vote 2 down vote accepted

Of the two alternatives, the first is correct:

The dirtier and more dangerous, the better.

The phrase 'more dirty' is simply incorrect.

Change 'dirty' into 'beguiling', and then you can write:

The more beguiling and dangerous, the better.

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What an odd substitution. Why that particular word? – Kevin Apr 7 '11 at 18:04
@Kevin: the 37th neutrino whistling past a neuron at the moment triggered a random association at the instant I was typing. It was a quasi-random choice. Also, dirt and mess are attractive to 8 month old babies, and hence beguiling to them. – Jonathan Leffler Apr 7 '11 at 21:14

Or maybe find a more pliable ('pliabler!) word than 'dangerous':

"The dirtier and (the) riskier, the better."

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