12

Is worser correct grammatically? I know it seems incorrect, but I stumbled upon the word when reading Hamlet:

Oh, throw away the worser part of it,

And live the purer with the other half.

Lines 159-160, Act 3 Sc 4

I looked it up, and there are 21 instances of worser in Shakespeare's works (I used this for the count).

Shakespeare's works somewhat define the English language. He invented many words and idioms, so would using worser be acceptable, at least in an academic English context?

7
  • 5
    Shakespeare was quite fond of double comparative and superlative constructions; worser is one of the former. Similar phrases are more prettier, most nicest, etc.
    – Anonym
    Oct 22, 2014 at 2:25
  • 3
    Had he not used worser, he'd be a lesser poet.
    – RegDwigнt
    Oct 22, 2014 at 8:38
  • 1
    Shakespeare notwithstanding, "worser still" is an acceptable idiom in my particular dialect of English. However, "worser" in a more general sense doesn't work for me. Oct 22, 2014 at 8:40
  • 2
    @Xophmeister: Really? I've never heard it anywhere in the UK. Oct 22, 2014 at 10:40
  • 4
    @LightnessRacesinOrbit The more I post here, the more I am coming to realise that my dialect was formed in some kind of weird anachronistic bubble :P Oct 22, 2014 at 12:51

6 Answers 6

13

Shakespeare also used worser in Sonnet 144:

Two loves I have of comfort and despair,
Which like two spirits do suggest me still:
The better angel is a man right fair,
The worser spirit a woman colour'd ill.

It also appears in The Taming of the Shrew and Antony and Cleopatra.

Does this mean that using worser is grammatically correct today? Not at all. Shakespeare did have a habit of making up words that precisely matched his meaning and metre when nothing suitable already existed, but in the 17th century worser was not non-standard, though it was arguably unusual. Today, it is definitely non-standard, or at the very least archaic.

In both examples, worser is used to parallel better. In Sonnet 144, the parallel is direct: the better angel and the worser spirit in the following line occupy the same position in their respective lines. In Hamlet, Shakespeare uses worser more allusively: the worser spirit contrasts with the better part or the better half (often used to describe a wife...), but that reference has to be inferred from the reader's pre-existing knowledge rather than read in the text.

2
5

It actually is in the Merriam Webster dictionary: worser.

That said, I think people will frown upon it unless you are writing to achieve an "early/archaic English" effect. They might (incorrectly) assume you are using a non-word. Also it sounds bad.

4
  • 4
    Please do not use Old English to means anything but Old English. Old English is not what your grandparents speak, and it is not what Shakespeare spoke: he spoke (Early) Modern English.
    – tchrist
    Oct 22, 2014 at 2:30
  • what does old english mean? I thought old english means non contemporary english.
    – zvory
    Oct 22, 2014 at 2:31
  • comment edited; I didn't actually know Old English was a proper noun. Good to know. Regardless, I meant "old sounding English; something your friends today would probably find strange".
    – Tommy
    Oct 22, 2014 at 2:34
  • 6
    @zvory~ Old English is the language spoken between the 5th century and the mid-12th century. It was replaced by Middle English (Used by Chaucer) until the late 15th Century when Early Modern English (used by Shakespeare)emerged. Middle and Early Modern English are accesible to an educated modern reader, but Old English is effectively another language. The grammar, vocabulary, and even the alphabet are different to Modern English. Oct 22, 2014 at 5:05
4

Worser is wrong. You wouldn't say "betterer".

There are adjectives already available for such purposes:

  • good = better
  • bad = worse

Neologism can be used to emphasize things to achieve hyperbolic connotations but quoting Shakespeare shouldn't support the idea that it is correct. Hey, but what do I know? It's not even my native language :)

7
  • 1
    Be careful with your usage of "wrong". Worser is an actual word in major dictionaries. It is depreciated, but that is different than wrong.
    – Tommy
    Oct 22, 2014 at 15:22
  • Which means that, lexically, this would be a valid word. However, the OP specifically asked if the word is grammatically correct, hence, the answer is no as per the argument presented in my answer. Oct 22, 2014 at 15:29
  • 3
    It's wrong in most contemporary varieties of English, written and spoken. (Does that work for clarification?) Oct 22, 2014 at 15:30
  • Its not grammatically incorrect either. It's an adjective. If you take its meaning, bad, then the sentence throw away the bad part of it is perfectly valid. So it ``sounds" wrong, and I would never use it, but that does not mean it is grammatically incorrect, and in fact, because it is an adjective, it is grammatically/lexically valid.
    – Tommy
    Oct 22, 2014 at 16:35
  • 1
    Small correction: "worse" is a comparative, not a superlative.
    – Dancrumb
    Oct 22, 2014 at 22:43
3

The answer in Wiktionary is:

worser: While common in the 16th and 17th centuries, worser is now found only in some regional dialects, and is considered nonstandard.

0
  • Shakespeare's language may have been 'correct' for the 1600's, but that is not a good indication for what people use nowadays (language changes).

  • 'worser', as a comparative, is one of the worst solecisms in standard English, formal or informal. It is a sign of child language, where overgeneralization and mixing of multiple rules can occur.

  • I'm sure there are some contexts where 'worser' might work, (others have given examples), but those instances are rare in comparison.

-2

There was no way but to comparativize an inherently comparative worse in his situation – try using worse in that sentence.

The Bard used the logical worser because that's precisely the semantic needed there. Note the POS: it's a noun formed from an adjective, like "the poorer."

It's because such a form makes eminent sense that it had to be listed in dictionaries.

So, yes, worser is a word; use it where that is meant.

3
  • 2
    In "the worser part", worser is not a noun, but an adjective. An alternative possibility here would have been to say "more worse", as occurs, for example, in Regan's speech from Act 2, Scene 2 of King Lear: "My sister may receive it much more worse // To have her gentleman abused, assaulted // For following her affairs".
    – Erik Kowal
    Oct 22, 2014 at 7:01
  • 1
    "try using worse in that sentence"... many people do, regularly: the phrase "the worse part_" is commonly used (though often to mean the worst part).
    – oerkelens
    Oct 22, 2014 at 7:13
  • 2
    Non standard forms, slang, unconventional and dialectical forms are also recorded in dictionaries. The word worser is listed because it was/is used, heard and written.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Oct 22, 2014 at 8:07

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