Can someone please help me with this phrase. My wife and I disagree (and I am very likely wrong) on how the phrase "I like that one better" should be interpreted.

To me it sounds like you are saying that you are better at liking something, i.e. you have better skills at preferring one thing to another. To my wife it is equivalent to saying "I like that one more".

Which is correct?

  • This question may already have an answer here "Which do you like best" or "Which do you like most." ? – Centaurus Mar 21 '15 at 20:00
  • It isn't quite the same to me as the specific use of best vs better is slightly different. – PlanetWilson Mar 21 '15 at 20:09
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    In this expression well (of which better is the comparative) is a measure of degree, not competence. We rarely say "I like it well" these days, but we say "shake well before using" and speak of a "well-oiled machine". – StoneyB Mar 21 '15 at 20:59
  • Some comments have been removed because we're not here for marriage guidance. – Andrew Leach Mar 21 '15 at 21:25
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    'Better' is polysemous: better adv. Comparative of well : 1. In a more excellent way. // 2. a. To a greater extent or degree: better suited to the job; likes it better without sauce. b. To greater advantage; preferably: _a deed better left undone. _ // 3. More: It took me better than a year to recover. [AHDEL] //// Here, you're coming close to insisting on sense 1 when sense 2a is being used. – Edwin Ashworth Mar 21 '15 at 23:54

I will appeal to descriptivism in this answer, and assert simply that 100% of the time when you actually hear this used, the speaker means "I would rather have that one" (or, as your wife puts it, "I like that one more"), and has no idea whatsoever that anyone could possibly take them to mean "I have had more practice preferring that one [but am not stating which one I would rather have right now]".

I will not address the question of whether the rules of language assert that you should be able to interpret it per your suggestion; I only state that if you do interpret it that way, you will be at odds with what the speaker intended.

  • For once, UK usage seems identical to US usage. – Edwin Ashworth Mar 21 '15 at 23:50

More and better, in many situations, are not interchangeable:

*Branden Fraser is a more/better actor than Jason Statham.
Jason Statham fights more/better than Branden Fraser.

Lots more examples, but in general terms, more is a quantitative comparative, and better is a qualitative comparative.(Yes, the second example could either, depending upon the context, but they're definitely different in meaning).

Not so when attached to the verb like. Common North American usage tips the hat to either one, with more being a bit more formal or proper for those with an extra pinch of British blood.

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