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When people like something more than something else, it's common for me to hear them say they like it better than something else. Is this proper English? I've always thought the word more fits better, but I'm not sure whether or not use of the word better is wrong.

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As a foreign speaker, I learned to say “I like A better than B.” (But I keep forgetting it and I often say “I like A more than B.”) I share the feeling that the use of “better” sounds odd because we do not say “I like A well,” but anyway that is what I learned. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Nov 13 '10 at 0:49
    
@Tsuyoshi Ito, agree. (I am from China, and I guess you are from Japan....) –  user3812 Feb 17 '11 at 7:19

6 Answers 6

up vote 13 down vote accepted

I think that there is a very obvious answer to this question. The opposite of "better" is "worse." The opposite of "more" is "less." So, which of these sentences sounds correct:

I like dogs worse than cats

I like dogs less than cats?

The answer is clearly "I like dogs less than cats." The sentence "I like dogs worse than cats" would be flagged by any native speaker as being incorrect. No one would ever say that. The answer, in my honest opinion, lies in semantics, not grammar.

Think about it deeply; it simply doesn't make sense to say that you like something better. The word "better" tells you something about the worth of something. Whereas the word "Less" tells you something about a quantity (less butter) or about the perceived strength of something (less light). To increase or decrease the force of your 'liking," only two appropriate words are available to you: you like something more, or less. You can't like something better or worse, because these are words that comment on the value of liking, not its intensity.

To say "I like cats better than I like dogs" means, semantically, that your liking for dogs is somehow better than your liking for cats. And it's obvious that that is not what most people intend to say when they use "better" in this context.

What they mean is that their liking for dogs is GREATER than their liking for cats, not that their liking for dogs is in some odd way BETTER than their liking of cats. Dogs may be better than cats, but our liking of dogs can't be better than our liking of cats.

Of course someone might think that it is better to like dogs than it is to like cats. But there are no "better" ways of liking something.

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Welcome to the site! Excellent answer. I've just tried to tidy it up for you. –  Pureferret Dec 31 '11 at 19:54
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Speaking as a cat-person, I would say it's pretty obvious my liking of my cat is better than my (hypothetical) liking of my (hypothetical) dog. Better in an absolute moral sense (cats are cuter and they purr). And better for me, because it's so much easier to have a cat (plus they don't fart so much! :). –  FumbleFingers Jan 1 '12 at 3:39

More is, to me, the better of the two. Perhaps you could avoid all ambiguity and instead of:

I like Dogs more.
I like Cats better.

you can try:

I prefer Dogs.

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Just a clarification: cats are always better than dogs. –  zerkms Nov 13 '10 at 3:19
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"More is, to me, the better of the two" So I guess you could say that you like "more" better than "better." –  advs89 Feb 17 '11 at 1:43
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A friend of mine always used to say of anything particularly good - "Ah! That's more betterer!" –  FumbleFingers Jan 1 '12 at 3:32

You can use either, both are short versions of comparisons. I like cats better than dogs, but dogs more than pigs.

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There may be a US/UK distinction.

I like cats better than dogs

...sounds like to an Americanism to my British ears. I'd be more likely to say:

I like cats more than dogs.

However, I'd agree that both are acceptable.

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"I like cats better than dogs" sounds like a Britishism to me. So whence cometh it? –  Jon Purdy Nov 14 '10 at 9:02
    
I hear and use both regularly in the US. Often both in the same sentence. –  advs89 Feb 17 '11 at 1:44
    
I don't hear people say "I like x better than y" very often in the US. 'More' is mo common. Better at the end of sentences more often. –  Sam Feb 17 '11 at 2:57
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Do you have any evidence for this statement? Google Ngrams shows the US/UK distinction is not that big. –  Peter Shor Aug 17 '13 at 17:56

Both are correct, it is just a question of colloquialism.

Both "more" and "better" can function as either adjective or adverb. The question is which function is being filled in the case of "I like it _." Once we know what part of speech we are using, we can choose the appropriate word to fit our meaning.

FOR EXAMPLE:

If I throw something farther or faster than you, we can say "I throw better than you."

BUT ..

If I throw an object to a greater degree, amount, or constancy than I do the other object, we can say "I throw one object more than I do the other."

So, having said that, in case of:

"I like this sweater more" makes sense; "I like this sweater better" does not. However, this is a question of colloquialism.

So think about it like this:

What is being compared here? How well we like, or what is liked to a greater degree? If the comparison involves how well (as in how adeptly or correctly or skillfully) we like something, then we are comparing our liking that thing vs. somebody else's liking for it, or perhaps to how well (adeptly, correctly, skillfully) we like another item.

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Historically, like well and like better were the norm. (You'll find it in Shakespeare.) British English has dropped this usage, and opted for the more consistent like more, but still retains like well in expressions like well-liked or best loved.

American English has retained like well.

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Do you have an evidence for this statement? Google Ngrams seems to show that here's not that much difference in usage between the U.S. and the U.K. In particular, in both places like better is more common. See this Ngram. –  Peter Shor Aug 17 '13 at 13:22
    
No, I don't. I took it as received wisdom, and it fits my own grammatical intuition (I'm a native speaker of British English) so I never thought to seek corroboration. As you can imagine, I'm surprised by the Ngram result. –  Pitarou Aug 27 '13 at 0:10

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