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I have a grammatical question regarding one of the worst pieces of grammar imaginable. One of my students made the argument that better things could be considered a single item. Is it possible for the sentence:

I have so many more better things to do than grade your homework.

to be considered grammatically correct? It is grammatically abhorring, but ultimately, I can't find in my head if this is grammatically wrong.

Could someone please clarify if this is grammatically feasible? My question specifically has to do with more better in this sentence.

*EDIT: To clarify the exact context of the example, it would go: "There are better things that I could be doing instead of grading. In fact, there are so many things that I could be doing which would be better than this, i.e. there are so many more better things that I could be doing.

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I don't see a problem with it: if one can think of "a better thing" one can come up with "more better things." Similarly, I can buy "more red shirts." –  horatio Sep 21 '12 at 14:56
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Dunno about your question, but you're using "abhorring" and "find in my head", uh, strangely. –  Marthaª Sep 21 '12 at 15:00
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@horatio We read OP's example in two different ways probably ... I read it as "many (more better) things" and you read "(many more) better things" ... I'm curious now. –  Alex Sep 21 '12 at 15:00
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What if it's '(many more) (better things to do...'? –  Mitch Sep 21 '12 at 15:22
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@Mitch, This is exactly what my question is about. Does it work? –  Adam Sep 21 '12 at 15:25

5 Answers 5

up vote 19 down vote accepted

However grotesque the "more better" construction may be, I think this sentence is grammatically correct.

When diagrammed, more does not modify better — it modifies the object, things —, so perhaps you have found a case where "more" + "better" can be used correctly?

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Good word: grotesque. We've been so conditioned to cringe at the phrase more better that we still recoil, even when it's used correctly. Incidentally, I could be golfing instead of commenting, that would be a better thing to do. I could also be kayaking, rollerblading, or washing my car - those are three more better things to do. –  J.R. Sep 21 '12 at 15:39
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@J.R.: your example works better than the original one, because the more makes sense, by being contrasted with the first thing you mention. Without that context, I have so many more X to do is odd unless the thing being referred to is one of the X; but since the X are here specifically better things than the reference, the reference isn't one of them, and the original sentence doesn't quite work for me. –  Colin Fine Sep 21 '12 at 16:17
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@J.R. Your comment hits the nail on the head. The problem with the original sentence isn't that "more better things" is inherently ungrammatical -- it isn't. The problem is that "more" and "better" both suggest a contrast. The original sentence suggests that there are better things to do than grading homework (i.e., the contrast is against all the things that could be done), but it leaves the reader wondering, "More than what?". –  Aaron Novstrup Sep 21 '12 at 19:13
    
This I'd say is the correct answer. –  Kris Sep 22 '12 at 10:34
    
I would add that while it is grammatically correct, it is not stylistically correct. This was an important distinction that finally got through to me in my senior year of high school. It's grammatically acceptable to change tenses in the middle of a paragraph, but it is not stylistically acceptable (in most scenarios). Of course, as my caveat suggests, what is stylistically acceptable can be a difficult thing to define, but I don't feel that makes the task an unimportant one. (I should add that I'm arguably not the best person to be telling other people what is stylistically acceptable.) –  Ben Hocking Sep 23 '12 at 13:46

It is certainly possible to have more and better things to do. The wording as you have it may provoke comment (and in some circles, censure), so you might want to try to stick an and in between the adjectives

I have so many more and better things to do than grade your homework.

You could also emphasize the distinct nature of the adjectives with a comma:

I have so many more, better things to do than grade your homework.

However, if you really only mean you have other things to do that are better, it's simpler just to say

I have so many better things to do than grade your homework.

Note that in some dialects the "more" in "more better" just acts as an intensifier and is unobjectionable. See Spike Lee's Mo' Better Blues as a case in point.

Note also that if you do include more in addition to better you may be implying that grading that person's homework is included in the things you have to do.

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I think inserting "and" changes the intent and meaning of the statement here, considering the OP says the student argues that "better things" is a unit. The OP might clarify. –  horatio Sep 21 '12 at 15:04
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I feel that the comma changes things unnecessarily, and the student would find it confusing. However, my instinct was to correct to your third example, "so many better things" but the student wanted to know if this particular sentence was possible. I thought the same also about 'and', but I felt that it changed the meaning. –  Adam Sep 21 '12 at 15:10
    
@Adam: Note my preface to that usage, which qualifies its utility. It is not a blanket recommendation. –  Robusto Sep 21 '12 at 15:47
    
What @Adam said. I'm not sure the comma can ever really be "valid" there. At first I thought the "ambiguity" could be removed by using "...than just grade...", but now I'm inclined to think you'd either have to rely on additional context, or completely rephrase things. –  FumbleFingers Sep 21 '12 at 16:25
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@FumbleFingers: Really? How about if you were making a list? "I have so many more, urgent, better, and wholesome things to do." More may be thought of there as just an adjective instead of an adverb and may be treated as such, especially for emphasis. –  Robusto Sep 21 '12 at 16:51

It's certainly true that in some dialectal usages, more can be used as intensifier for better - I know at least one person who playfully amplifies the form as "Ah! I feel much more betterer now!"

But even sticking to standard English, there's nothing at all wrong with OP's example. As @horatio comments, you can have "one better thing", so you can obviously have "more better things".

So OP's student is quite correct - "better things" can indeed be parsed as a "single lexical item" capable of being modified by "more". The fact that it would be dialectal/non-standard to say...

"?*I have a more better thing to do than grade your homework."

...is effectively a red herring which has no real bearing on the grammaticality of the example.


There's the subtle issue of whether or not grading the addressee's homework is included within the scope of "better things", but OP provides insufficient context to rule on this. Preceded by...

"Prioritising is always an issue for me when I have a lot to do, and I often can't make a choice and get started. Tonight I'll probably fail to make a decision, veg out with the TV, and end up feeling guilty about wasting my time again."

...the implication would be that grading is a "better thing" than watching TV, and the teacher also has many other things to do which are also better than watching TV. But with...

"I do have a life outside school, you know. And they don't pay me for extracurricular activities like preparing lesson plans and monitoring students' progress."

...it's safe to assume grading homework isn't one of the "better things" the teacher has in mind.

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You probably shouldn't call it a "lexical item" though. –  Mechanical snail Sep 22 '12 at 3:46
    
@Mechanical snail: I'm no master of the terminology, but I think you're probably right. Nevertheless, OP (or at least, his student) used the expression in this context, where I think it's clear he meant something capable of being treated as a single unit for the purpose of being modified by "more". I'll put it in "quotes". –  FumbleFingers Sep 22 '12 at 11:06
    
Maybe call it a "grammatical" item? Lexical item generally means a unit of vocabulary, like a word or a phrasal verb. –  Mechanical snail Sep 22 '12 at 11:09
    
@Mechanical snail: Nah. No-one's likely to be misled, given these comments and the quote marks. If people want to be precise, let them talk about lexemes. Lexical item is too general to allow it to be co-opted for that special purpose. –  FumbleFingers Sep 22 '12 at 16:13

It is 100% grammatically correct, but 100% awkward-sounding without sufficient context. In one sense, "More better" in and of itself--"more" being an adverb modifying "better"--is grammatically incorrect. In another sense, considering that "better" is just an irregular way of saying what would be "more good" or "gooder", "more better" is just redundant.

But, "more" can also mean more in number, i.e. additional better things. In this sense it is very much grammatically correct. Consider the following conversation (argument):

I have better things to do than this.
Oh yea? Well I have even more better things to do than you do. So there!

The silliness of such an argument notwithstanding, with the extra context given by the conversation, and extra "sugar" added to the sentence (i.e. "even" and "than you"), it sounds a lot more natural. If all of this were removed, we'd be left with

I have more better things to do.

So the conclusion: the expression is syntactically ambiguous and can be parsed in three different ways--two of those three are grammatically incorrect. Two out of three makes for a grammatically correct, but very awkward sounding expression.

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It would sound more natural to use other rather than more here, as the contrast with better is awkward. A comma is still needed because other and better don't catenate smoothly; the construction parallels the first, not the second, example below:

I have many other, green socks. (I have many other socks - they are green.)

I have many other green socks. (I have many other green socks besides these examples.)

A contrived but grammatically correct example using so many more better things is:

Your language tutor has kindly told me she will grade your homework, even though it is a week late and probably as poorly executed as usual. She kindly relieved me of the task - she has many better things to do, but I have so many more better things to do this week that she said she'd help me out. Next time, you won't get a grade.

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