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I was reading a news story recently, and saw this sentence:

"Police used tear gas and what appeared to be plastic bullets against increasingly smaller groups of protesters."

I wasn't sure if it was right or not. It seems somewhat oxymoronic. Can something become increasingly smaller? Is that logical?

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2  
Would you prefer "decreasingly large"? –  MετάEd May 21 '12 at 2:30
1  
If something can be even odder than something else, I don't see why the group can't become increasingly smaller. –  David Schwartz May 21 '12 at 3:55

5 Answers 5

up vote 2 down vote accepted

increase verb |1nˈkris| |ɪŋˈkris|

become or make greater in size, amount, intensity, or degree

The key word here is degree. So in your example, it's not the group itself that is modified by increasingly, but the degree to which its size is changing. It just happens to be getting smaller. So, yes, something can logically become increasingly smaller.

Of course, if the total number of protesters is staying the same, but they are simply breaking into smaller groups, then the number of groups is in fact increasing. This may be what the writer intended to convey.

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1  
I think the writer intended to convey that the number of people protesting is dwindling- that in the face of tear gas and plastic bullets the protesters' staying power is waning. –  Jim May 21 '12 at 5:04
    
True, it'd have to be a pretty committed black bloc to hold the line against plastic bullets. –  Callithumpian May 21 '12 at 13:22
    
I find "degree to which its size is changing" confusing here. If you're saying that it's saying something about the rate of change, then that's wrong. It's not the degree to which the size [of the groups] is changing that's increasing, it's the smallness of the groups. –  Rupe Jul 16 at 9:32

What is increasing is the smallness of the groups. It is also intended to express that as time went on, and the police continued their tactics, the groups continued to get smaller and smaller.

They could have used "continually shrinking", or "smaller and smaller", but news reports seem to like the word "increasingly" for some reason.

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It means the group of protesters became smaller and smaller over time, say from 100 to 10 to 1.

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It means that the number of people is getting smaller, at an ever increasing rate. So, maybe two people leave, then another five leave, then 10 more, then 20 more and so on.

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I can't see it that way, to me it's just saying that the groups are continuing to get smaller and smaller. I see nothing to suggest it's saying anything about the rate of dwindling. –  Rupe Jul 16 at 9:31

In regard to the phrase "increasingly smaller": Please be aware this clumsy, irritating usage is called a "contradiction in terms." Applying the adverb "increasingly" to the adjective "smaller" is a wordy, self-contradictory way of writing. This confusing writing style should be avoided completely, in my opinion. I would more often than not less than uncertainly love to notice a lack of not seeing a great increase in the decreasing frequency and dearth in the lack of such constructions. Sorry. Not sure what that means.

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