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Consider this sentence:

The more complex a law, the more difficult it is to comprehend, the easier it becomes for the experts to evade it.

As RegDwigнt has pointed out

...the chain is not limited to just two items. In fact, there is no theoretical limit, only a practical one that depends entirely on context.

But what if there aren't actually three links in the chain?

What if the speaker (whose transcribed words I'm now translating) is merely flipping the first link for a sec, making an additional remark, before moving on to the second (and last) one?

Consider:

The more complex a law and the more difficult it is to comprehend, the easier it becomes for the experts to evade it.

Is there any way, by means of formulation or punctuation perhaps, to convey this nuance, without resorting to the utilization of the conjunction and, which somehow seems to rob the sentence of some vague sense of rhythm?

Have I perhaps already taken a step in that direction by omitting the object [it] in the "backside-clause" of my first link?

Compare my first sentence with this one:

The more complex a law, the more difficult it is to comprehend it, the easier it becomes for the experts to evade it.

Is this a more tangible instance of a threefold correlative comparative?

Lastly, consider:

The more complex a law, the more difficult to comprehend, the easier it becomes for the experts to evade it.

Am I there? Or is this ungrammatical?

  • Great question +1, but why don't you consider using "The more complex and difficult a law is..."? I think to comprehend is redundant. – user140086 Dec 1 '16 at 14:24
  • @Truth be told, that's probably how I would have put it myself; but in this case, it didn't even cross my mind, due, perhaps, to my customary reluctance to "over-modify" my source material... – m.a.a. Dec 1 '16 at 14:28
  • Are the first two links intended to be an assertion? That is: >The more complex a law the more difficult it is to comprehend. Or are the commas parenthetical, implying there may be laws that are complex, but not difficult to comprehend? – Bobbi Bennett Dec 1 '16 at 15:33
  • @BobbiBennett The latter. – m.a.a. Dec 1 '16 at 15:38
  • I'm not sure whether this is what you're getting at, but if I wanted to make clear that the second term in the sentence was a restatement of the first term, I would replace the commas with em dashes: "The more complex a law—the more difficult it is to comprehend—the easier it becomes for the experts to evade it." And then I'd recast the phrasing of the third term to match the phrasing of the first term: "The more complex a law—the more difficult it is to comprehend—the more easily experts can evade it." – Sven Yargs Dec 2 '16 at 21:49
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I think there are some formulations that can help make things more clear-er!

From your post:

The more complex a law and the more difficult it is to comprehend, the easier it becomes for the experts to evade it.

I think it is quite superfluous -- if not tautological -- to conjoin (and) complexity and difficulty. The definition of complexity presupposes at minimum a single dimension of difficulty, however the definition of difficulty does not presuppose complexity. Difficulty and complexity are not mutually exclusive. One could write:

The more complex a law is or the more difficult it is to comprehend, the easier it becomes for the experts to evade it.

Hope I helped,

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Or even:

"With any increase in complexity or a difficulty in comprehension, the law becomes easier for an expert to evade."

  • To me this suggests that the difficulty in comprehension is independent of the complexity, where as there is a direct relationship exists in the original form. – KillingTime Oct 13 at 8:42
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A key problem with the original punctuation of the sentence in question—

The more complex a law, the more difficult it is to comprehend, the easier it becomes for the experts to evade it.

—is that it doesn't clearly establish what connections and associations the author is trying to make. One possibility is that the author is saying that the first term and the second term, in combination, lead to the third term as a consequence. That is, A and B, working together, beget C. If we wanted to make this intention less ambiguous, we could express the sentence as follows:

The more complex a law is and the more difficult it is to comprehend, the easier it becomes for experts to evade.

Another possibility, however, is the one that Janus Bahs Jacquet points out in a note beneath the posted question. The author might be trying to say that the first term produces two results: the second term and the third term. That is, A directly begets both B and C. In that case, we could clarify the author's intent (assuming that we have already established elsewhere in the text that we would have used an Oxford comma after the second term if we had been trying to present the sentence as a true three-term series) by altering the sentence to run as follows:

The more complex a law is, the more difficult it is to comprehend and the easier it becomes for experts to evade.

There are still two other possibilities that we haven't yet considered. One is that the author means to present a sequence in which the first term has as its direct consequence the second term, and the second term has as its direct consequence the third term. To convey this idea, we might rework the sentence as follows:

The more complex a law is, the more difficult it is to comprehend; and the more difficult it is to comprehend, the easier it becomes for experts to evade.

There are shorter ways to express this third possibility, such as by inserting "and in turn" before the third term:

The more complex a law is, the more difficult it is to comprehend, and in turn the easier it becomes for experts to evade.

But repeating the second term is the clearest way to indicate that the author is talking about a sequence in which A begets B and B begets C, rather than a sequence in which A directly begets both B and C.

The fourth possibility is that the author is introducing the second term simply as a restatement of the first term, before identifying the third term as the consequence of the first term (and also of the second term, which recasts the first in other words). That is, A (or, if you prefer, B, which equals A) begets C. This is evidently the situation that the poster is interested in. The simplest way to convey this intended meaning would be to break out the second term as a visible parenthetical, either with em dashes:

The more complex a law is—[that is,] the more difficult it is to comprehend—the easier it becomes for experts to evade.

or with parentheses:

The more complex a law is ([that is,] the more difficult it is to comprehend), the easier it becomes for experts to evade.

In either instance, there is no requirement to include the bracketed words "that is" as part of the parenthetical term; but by the same token, including them will not create syntactical problems.

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