6

I caught myself saying "to be more correct", is this strictly possible given that something is usually correct or incorrect. If this is a grammatical faux pas, what is it called?

  • 5
    There are degrees of anything, and everything is relative. Even "perfect" is relativized in the U.S. constitution: ". . . in order to form a more perfect union . . ." – Robusto Sep 9 '15 at 14:17
  • 3
    Who says that "correct" is a binary predicate? It's just as incremental as any other adjective. And stop worrying about grammatical fo paz. You don't know enough to worry properly yet. – John Lawler Sep 9 '15 at 14:26
  • 6
    I shall worry improperly then! – Rolf of Saxony Sep 9 '15 at 14:38
  • 2
    Something can be partially correct (eg I say your name is Rolf of Schleswig-Holstein), so it can be more correct -- closer to being absolutely correct. – Andrew Leach Sep 9 '15 at 14:45
  • 4
    Since no one has said it yet: whether or not it’s logically possible for something to be more or less correct than something else is completely orthogonal to whether or not more correct is a grammatical faux pas (or fo pa, if you prefer—and @SAH, I can assure you that John knows how to spell faux pas, he just sports a rather idiosyncratic orthography sometimes). ‘More correct’ is grammatically perfectly fine, whether it makes any sense or not; grammar does not describe the logical, semantic content of what you say, only the structure of how you say it. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Sep 9 '15 at 17:35
5

"More correct" is acceptable (especially in the adverbial form "More correctly"). That said, you will usually see "More accurate" instead.

  • 5
    Not much of an explanation. – Lambie Jan 7 '19 at 17:28
4

"More correct" is certainly used when talking of forms of address. For instance it is quite common to call a Church of England parish priest "Reverend" when speaking to them but Debrett's {if you follow the link scroll down to the table of forms of address at the end} would not recognise this as the correct form of address (it is correct in the US but not in the UK).

In general it is more correct to use "Vicar" but, sometimes, a parish priest is a "rector" rather than a "vicar" and calling a rector "Vicar" is not really correct (although you can't tell the difference if you haven't been told). It is also possible that a rector or vicar is also a canon or a dean (or even a retired bishop) and in those cases "Rector" or "Vicar" would not be the truly correct form of address, however the relevant one would still be more correct than "Reverend".

Fortunately people worry about such things less now than they used to do but the distinction between correct and more correct forms of address still exists.

  • Thank you for this answer, I enjoyed reading it. One point of contention however, Fortunately people worry about such things less now than they used to, I would have added Un to the beginning of that statement. – Rolf of Saxony Jan 8 '19 at 10:01
  • 2
    @RolfofSaxony I consider it to be fortunate, not for linguistic reasons but because that sort of concern is driven mainly by adherence to strict class divisions. I feel much happier under modern social conditions than under the ones which dominated 1950s society. – BoldBen Jan 9 '19 at 12:51
  • Perhaps it is old fashioned but I prefer the attitude of "mean what you say, say what you mean". – Rolf of Saxony Jan 20 '19 at 9:45
1

'More correct' is semantically questionable and you probably want to word it differently.

Adjectives can be described as 'gradable' or 'absolute'.. A gradable adjective has degrees of that quality. An absolute adjective either has the quality or does not, with no in between.

The color 'red' is a gradable adjective because the redness of an object can be placed on a scale. This one is red while this one is redder. The semantics of the adjective allow comparative and superlative syntactic constructions easily.

Another example of an absolute adjective is 'unique'. If there is only one of a particular kind, it is unique. It cannot be 'more unique' - it is already unique, and that's as far as it goes.

Absolute adjectives do not allow being made into comparative or superlative. You can say 'the final countdown' but not 'the most final countdown'.

There are not many absolute adjectives. As the saying goes, you can't be a little pregnant, you either are or are not. But within a set of pregnant women, some may be further along than others and one can very legitimately say that one is more pregnant than another. So many adjectives that seem logically absolute, allow a little grading in comparison.

Which brings us to 'correct'. We are all familiar with the idea that true/false or multiple choice questions on tests are either correct or not; there's only one right answer. But one can always make a thoughtful philosophical point in a particular situation. "This answer is correct, but this other answer is better - it is more correct.". That might work in some situations, but the situation you'd really have to explain yourself to make sure you're not committing a solecism. Making a comparative out of an absolute usually sounds bad and is a sign of not thinking things through.

The adjective 'correct' is usually absolute, but there are situations where it can be thought of as gradable.

As to what it is called when one uses a word incorrectly or, more charitably, in a nearby sense, that is:

catachresis.

The rhetorical term for a grammatical error is

solecism.

  • 2
    If correct is an absolute adjective, it didn't start out that way. Here are the first two examples for "correct, adj., 3," defined as " In accordance with fact, truth, or reason; free from error; exact, true, accurate; right. Said also of persons, in reference to their statements, scholarship, acquirements, etc.," in the OED: 1705 J. Addison Remarks Italy Pref. sig. A4 Monsieur Misson has wrote a more correct Account of Italy..than any before him. 1713 H. Felton Diss. Reading Classics 42 Always use the most correct editions. The next two also use similar forms. – TaliesinMerlin Jan 8 '19 at 15:12
  • @TaliesinMerlin I'll grant that 'correct' can be used sometimes in a gradable sense (more likely than 'unique'). But it always seems like a catachresis to me, where 'accurate' would be a more accurate use for the situation. Also, note that "Monsieur Misson has wrote a more correct Account" would normally use 'written' so... – Mitch Jan 8 '19 at 15:27
  • 1
    @TaliesinMerlin English didn't start out in the 17th century and correct is borrowed form of Latin correctus, past participle of corrigo, which cannot be graded. I may be talking more and faster non-sense than anyone else, but I can't be more talking, and a line cannot be straighter than straight. It can be straighter than not straight, in which case it is just straight. So if you call something more correct, you are calling the other thing false. You may call a line less curved, hence straighter, but that's inconsistent and should be avoided. Is -1 smaller than -2? Depends on the measure. – vectory Jan 9 '19 at 5:52
  • 2
    @vectory, it's an etymological fallacy that words borrowed from other languages have to retain their standards of use from that language. As it entered use in English, "correct" was not absolute. Even today, "more correct" makes grammatical sense in plenty of situations where something comes closer to a desired standard. If it ever raises semantic concerns, that is distinct from whether it causes grammatical ones. You are applying a narrow absolutist definition that doesn't actually correspond to how "more correct" is understood as a comparative. That's overprescriptive. – TaliesinMerlin Jan 9 '19 at 15:09
-1

All the comments suffer the same error - they confuse accurate and detailed with "correct".

2+2 = 4: this answer is correct. (i) 2+2 = 5; (ii) 2+2=5,681 -> neither answer is "more correct" but (i) is more accurate.

You can make up an example for "detailed" yourself.

Correct is an absolute state.

  • 2
    Not every use of correct refers to mathematics. It is more correct to say that in mathematics, calculations are correct or incorrect. – Lambie Jan 7 '19 at 17:30
  • @Lambian, you needlessly denigrate the power of logical thought. Logic is chiefly, but not solely, in the domain of Mathematics. To say something were more 90 degrees simply isn't equal to closer to 90 degrees. – vectory Jan 7 '19 at 21:48
  • 1
    @vectory: We're not talking about the modifier 90 degrees here, or even the modifier perpendicular. We're talking about the modifier correct. And I certainly agree that saying more correct for math problems is a logical mistake, but it's not a grammatical mistake. – Peter Shor Jan 9 '19 at 16:44
  • Could you please elaborate your answer. It seems people think logic is a democracy and they get to use "more correct" simply because it sounds fine to them. They use "more correct" when they think "more accurate". Which is wrong. The adjective "correct" has no comparative forms. Either something is correct or it isn't. – q-l-p Feb 20 '19 at 11:10

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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