In the quoted passage below, I came across a sentence I don't understand:

In 1955 Maurice Duverger published The Political Role of Women, the first behavioralist, multinational comparison of women’s electoral participation ever to use election data and survey data together. His study analyzed women’s patterns of voting, political candidacy, and political activism in four European countries during the first half of the twentieth century. Duverger’s research findings were that women voted somewhat less frequently than men (the difference narrowing the longer women had the vote) and were slightly more conservative.

Does the italicized sentence mean the difference of men and woman voting rates narrows the time that women have for voting?

Why shouldn't the sentence be "the difference narrower, the longer women had the vote"?

Thank you so much.

  • Well, I certainly don't understand your interpretation the difference of men and woman voting rates narrows the time that women have for voting. The original sentence would benefit from a comma, after narrowing. Your suggestion of narrower is grammatical, but introduces a slightly differently nuanced meaning.
    – WS2
    Jun 4, 2016 at 7:10
  • Just thinking again, the sentence I didn't understand would make sense if you added the words according to between narrows and the time; and if you add had after have. With those changes, yes it is another way of expressing the original. the difference of men and woman voting rates narrows, according to the time that women have had for voting.
    – WS2
    Jun 4, 2016 at 8:27
  • Thanks WS2. I seemed to misunderstand the meaning of original sentence. Now I get it. However, could you please give me other examples of using the same original structure ? "the difference narrowing the longer women had the vote" Jun 4, 2016 at 9:00
  • I don't think you were helped by the original sentence. I think I might have said the difference narrowing, as the time since women had had the vote lengthened. Similar examples might be the mist clearing, the more the morning wore on; the colour fading, the longer the fabric was exposed to the sun, the children tiring, the longer they were required to walk. Or using the pluperfect, It was nearly midnight and the passengers wilting with hunger, the longer the time since they had had food
    – WS2
    Jun 4, 2016 at 11:54

2 Answers 2


The parenthetical

(the difference narrowing the longer women had the vote)

is not a complete sentence; it's an aside describing the gap between the number of women who vote and the number of men. Women's participation is lower than men's, but the difference is larger just after women attain suffrage. Thereafter, the difference becomes less. The meaning is

(starting with the grant of female suffrage, the difference in voting frequency narrows as time goes along)

What's being described is a proportional relationship between two variables (which I'll call X and Y). English has an idiomatic way of phrasing this with the comparative form of adjectives:

the [comparative] X, the [comparative] Y

where [comparative] is the comparative of an adjective of magnitude. If the comparatives are of the same order -- both smaller (-) or both larger (+) -- then we have a direct proportionality; if they're of different order -- one smaller (-), one larger (+) -- then we have an indirect proportionality. For example, direct:

(+/+): The harder you work, the more you'll succeed.
(-/-): The smaller your salary, the less you can save.

For example, indirect:

(+/-): The steeper the grade, the slower the pace of the runners.
(-/+): The smaller the dog, the louder the bark.

X is the independent variable, the one you can think about varying freely. Y is the dependent variable, the one with values that follow the change in the X variable. Your suggestion isn't ungrammatical; it just violates the idiomatic expectation of

The longer women have the vote, the narrower the difference.

  • But what the OP seemed to be querying, insofar as I understand his question, was the use of narrowing.
    – WS2
    Jun 4, 2016 at 8:22
  • @WS2 Yes, which I addressed. And he also asked, "Why shouldn't the sentence be 'the difference narrower, the longer women had the vote'?"
    – deadrat
    Jun 4, 2016 at 8:26
  • I don't see much wrong with that, except that I'm not entirely happy with the grammar of the original. I think it needs a second had - the longer women had had the vote.
    – WS2
    Jun 4, 2016 at 8:35
  • The water level decreasing the longer the summer lasts. If I construct a new sentence like this one by imitating the original structure. Would It be weird? Jun 4, 2016 at 9:15
  • @WS2 I'm not sure the past perfect works, but it's the early hours of the morning here, and I keep getting distracted by the voting habits of the not-so-long women.
    – deadrat
    Jun 4, 2016 at 9:18

It means that as of 1955, in regions with female suffrage, women used their franchise less often than men, but the more years women's franchise had existed somewhere, the more often women voted there.

If we were to draw an X,Y graph with X=(4 year intervals) and Y=(votes by gender), the women's line would be drawn below the men's line, and the up/down gap between both lines would be wider on the left side, and narrower on the right side.

Parsing it out:

  1. Past Collection A (Men's past voting rates )
  2. Present Collection A (Men's present voting rates)
  3. Past Collection B (Women's past voting rates)
  4. Present Collection B (Women's present voting rates)

Unrolling it, we get:

the [line-graphed] difference [between 1. and 3. vs 2. and 4., i.e. a 2nd order difference between two 1st order differences] narrowing the longer women had the vote

Think of it like the phrase "the more the merrier", but inverted, and with a four term 2nd order comparative in the first position.

  • Thanks, I understand the meaning now. Could you give me other examples of using the same structure as (the difference narrowing the longer women had the vote) ? Jun 4, 2016 at 9:04
  • How about: "The variety of radio dwindling the more monopolies were permitted to own chains of stations."
    – agc
    Jun 4, 2016 at 11:18
  • Does it sound native to your ear with this structure? Could you break down to grammatical formula? Like "S.th + V.ing + Comparative + S.th ...." Thing is I misunderstand these sentences by thinking that "S.th(The variety of radio)+ do s.th(dwindling) to + S.th(The rest of the sentence) Jun 4, 2016 at 17:07

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

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