Lets assume I have an object X of which I want to say (1) it's more important than Y and (2) it's smaller than Y (Y is left implicit in the examples.) If I say X is more important before saying X is smaller, would more extend it's meaning into small? In other words, which of the following two sentences is grammatically correct and also unambiguous, i.e, implies unequivocally that X has more of both attributes?

(1) X is more important and small. 
(2) X is more important and smaller.

Of course, the inverse it's easier: X is easier and more important.

Now, if both adjectives are more than two syllables long, is it necessary to use more twice?

(3) X is more important and expensive.
(4) X is more important and more expensive.

This same problem appears when making lists:

(5) X is more important, expensive and small.
(6) X is more important, more expensive and smaller.

Of the examples above,

  • Which are grammatically correct?
  • Which are unambiguous, i.e, mean that X has more of ALL the listed attributes and not simply more of the first and that it IS also the remaining ones? For instances, example 5 could be read as implying that X is more important, and that it's also expensive and small, but not more than Y for the last two.
  • Does the scope of more extend to the whole list?
  • 1
    No, more modifies only the first adjective in your sentences. All sentences are grammatically correct. – user240918 Jan 23 '18 at 15:46
  • Some will disagree with this, but I think that size comes first, 'smaller, more important and more expensive'. – Nigel J Jan 23 '18 at 15:48
  • @NigelJ From where did you get that rule? An even if that's true, I'm asking for the rule of thumb here (not only for sentences that include small). – je2018 Jan 23 '18 at 16:04
  • 1
    @je2018 There have been lists published which are not just style guides but academic papers which describe psychological perceptions. EL&U dealt with it here --> english.stackexchange.com/questions/1155/… – Nigel J Jan 23 '18 at 16:10
  • Good find, @NigelJ! – Lawrence Jan 23 '18 at 16:19

Generally, I would not use "more" in a way that extended its effect beyond the one following adjective.

An important exception to that would be where two or more adjectives were being used as part of an idiomatic set phrase, or to convey a single impression e.g:

"more tattered and torn", "more rough and ready", "more rich and powerful", "more decent and honest", "more cheap and cheerful" etc


The scope would depend greatly on the context. But all other things being equal, the tendency is usually to aggregate similar or related adjectives together conceptually. So something like "more important and urgent" would definitely be interpreted as "more important and also more urgent".

The connection is more ambiguous for adjectives that are less obviously related. So "X is more important and expensive" is a little less obvious, but many people would interpret it as applying to both adjectives, since there is a natural tendency to assume something of higher importance would also be relatively more expensive. However, I would not say that the association is so obvious that it completely avoids ambiguity. For example, if you turn it around and say "X is less important and expensive", it's not clear if you mean that X is less important and also expensive (with the implication that it's TOO expensive for it's relative unimportance), or that X is less important but also less expensive. But if you have a list of somewhat related adjectives, they tend to build upon one another to the point that the scope seems to apply to all of them. So "X is more important, expensive, and complex" would be interpreted as "X is more important, more expensive, and more complex."

Adjectives that are unrelated don't tend to get lumped together, so something like "X is more tattered and blue" would usually be interpreted as "X is more tattered and also happens to be blue".

For lists that are a mixture of adjectives that are related and not, the scope becomes ambiguous again. So "X is more important, expensive, and blue" is once again unclear. Sentence (5) is also ambiguous.

A different issue is that your example involves contrasting adjectives. It's actually awkward to use AND to combine them. Without context, the tendency is to assume bigger is better, thus more important and expensive. It seems odd to say "more important and smaller" because the adjectives are in such perceived contrast. The natural way to say it would be "more important BUT smaller" or "more expensive BUT more compact", or "more important BUT minute". Unless, of course, the context makes it clear that smaller is better, such as "This computer chip is more expensive AND smaller". This usually doesn't apply to lists of more than two items (there is no implied contrast in a list). Thus sentences (5) and (6) are ok, but (1) and (2) are awkward.

Side note: as you pointed out, it is also more natural to place adjectives that describe inherent properties (small, big, red, talented, incompetent, etc.) before adjectives that describe value or relation (expensive, cheap, important, famous, infamous, etc.). There is usually a tendency to assume the inherent properties should explain the relational properties. For example, if a car is red and fast, and also popular and expensive, the assumption is that its inherent properties, i.e. color and speed, influence its popularity or price. Something like "X is expensive and big" sounds awkward because conceptually, it seems like a non-sequitur. "X is big and expensive" makes more sense.


First, you need to repeat the adjective more, as well as the suffix -er. If you don't repeat it, most readers are not going to interpret more as only applying to the adjective it's just before.

Second, unless there is some good reason to change the order, the adjective with an -er ending should come before the adjective with more before it. To give an illustration, the natural order of adjectives is impressive new, so you would say an impressive new building. See Ngram. But if you make them both comparatives, the usual order is newer and more impressive. See Ngram.

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