Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

For instance, would you rather say "It became increasingly hard" or "It became increasingly harder"?

From my understanding, both are possible, but their meaning is slightly different. The first simply means that it became "harder". The second literally refers to an increasing rate of getting harder.

Though in practice, I believe the second is still used to express the exact same as the first, while sounding somewhat awkward.

share|improve this question
    
I would agree with your understanding: technically, increasingly harder should mean some exponential increase, though perhaps it is only so used consistently by careful writers. –  Cerberus Oct 13 '11 at 12:43
    
I agree with your analysis. –  Marcin Oct 13 '11 at 12:48

3 Answers 3

You should say:

It became increasingly hard.

This is mostly because there is an inherent (if obscured) redundancy in the second phrase. The word harder already has a sense of time and progression to it. Harder implies that it used to be less hard but is now changing toward being more hard. So saying "it became increasingly harder" doesn't really add anything new or make the sentence more clear, it just seems to make it increasingly more awkward.

share|improve this answer
    
Ngram agrees. I would also add that when it comes to questions like this, preference should be given to current and common usage over any intuitions about meaning. They happen to coincide on this question, but they might have not. –  Nathan Oct 13 '11 at 12:17
2  
@Nathan: I don't really see what that Ngram proves. Both are used, and why shouldn't increasingly harder mean what the OP proposes? It makes sense, even if it should often mean the same thing as increasingly hard in ordinary speech. –  Cerberus Oct 13 '11 at 12:42
1  
@cerberus: while there is certainly a rational argument for the nuance and the freedom to use it, if the point is to communicate clearly, one must take into consideration the audience. Frequently such confusions are used to intentionally mislead or manipulate. –  horatio Oct 13 '11 at 15:59
    
@Horatio: By all means should one keep the audience in mind. Where the distinction is important, it is better to use a less ambiguous formula. That said, I'm not sure how one would use this particular phrase to manipulate people... –  Cerberus Oct 13 '11 at 16:22
    
I suppose i was responding to Nathan's generalising ("They happen to coincide on this question, but they might have not") –  horatio Oct 14 '11 at 14:52

"Increasingly harder" is an example of a classic grammar error in English of trying to express the same idea two different ways at the same time.

American children often say "more better", and their teachers will scold them and tell them to either say "better" or perhaps "more good".

I understand how one might suppose that "increasingly harder" should mean "getting harder at an increasing rate", but that's simply not what the words mean in English. It may be logical, but it isn't accepted English grammar.

Correct usage is to say, "It became harder", or if you want to add some emphasis, "It became increasingly hard".

share|improve this answer

It depends on context.

Consider these two sentences:

  • The bread became hard.
  • The bread became harder.

The implied transition is from soft to hard in the former. It is from hard to harder in the latter. The word choice confers extra information about the initial state of the bread.

The same implication can be provided when increasingly is the modifier:

As the snow began covering the paths, making our way became increasingly hard. When darkness began to fall, it became increasingly harder.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.