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Recently a friend of mine, a native British English speaker, said:

.... more infrequently...

I asked him, why not 'less frequently,' and he said that would sound weird and that his version was perfectly fine. Now, I do know that the grammar is fine in both versions. What I'd like to know is if a teacher would mark that as poor wording or not. To me it just sounds strange but as the English grammar with regard to adjectives calls for this, maybe for a native it is not weird at all.

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  • I would have said less frequently, rather than more infrequently. It just sounds better to me.
    – tchrist
    Oct 18, 2012 at 12:30
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    I'm sure there are teachers who would mark many things as poor wording that are not.
    – Robusto
    Oct 18, 2012 at 12:33
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    My favorite is "This is ten times smaller than that" instead of "This is one-tenth the size of that". "Ten times larger" sounds fine to me; "ten times smaller" sounds weird. Just as when native speakers of Chinese say in English "I always don't go" instead of "I never go". "I always don't go" is certainly possible in English, but it's a special case, not an idiomatic substitute for "I never go" for native English speakers.
    – user21497
    Oct 18, 2012 at 13:07
  • @BillFranke I agree that "I always don't go" sounds like someting someone would say trying to be funny. But if you said, "I always refrain from doing that" ... that sounds quite normal to me. "I always don't say yes": awkward. "I always say no": perfectly natural. I think it hinges on combining an intensifier with a negative modifier, like "not", rather than a "negative word".
    – Jay
    Oct 18, 2012 at 14:05
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    I'd say that the unmarked word "frequently" is preferable although not required: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Markedness
    – minopret
    Oct 18, 2012 at 15:11

4 Answers 4

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You did note that both are grammatical. This is therefore, a good point to raise: "if a teacher would mark that as poor wording".

I would say Yes. As others have pointed out, the general recommendation would be to use less frequently.

However, as broad-based recommendations on composition go, there are always exceptions. In certain contexts, the idea is to drive the point correctly.

He has been an irregular student. With his indifferent health, these days he has been showing up (even) more infrequently.

Using less frequently would not express the idea with the same focus.

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  • I have been thinking since I asked the question and I do see a difference in tone in situtions like the one you suggested in your example with the student... whenever 'even' comes into play any such wording "less inacceptable", "more inappropriate" sound less unfine. However, my friend did not use it in such a situation, but just in a regular comparing statement like "I now smoke more infrequently than a month ago" Anyway... thanks for your answer
    – Emanuel
    Oct 19, 2012 at 11:29
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For me, both are fine. "Less frequently" is the more straightforward construction, but I'd say it might be interpreted as the event we're comparing against is rather frequent (or at least not infrequent). "More infrequently" for me means "even less frequently than the infrequent..."

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  • Yes! That was my problem with it also - "more infrequently" almost sounds redundent. Oct 18, 2012 at 17:49
  • Your rider is stronger and more convincing than your "For me, both are fine." :)
    – Kris
    Oct 19, 2012 at 4:30
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I guess it depends what you mean by "acceptable".

I would comment on it as poor style, because style guides are pretty much universal in saying that it is better to speak in positives:

12. Put statements in positive form

Make definite assertions. Avoid tame, colorless, hesitating, non-committal language.

Or

5. Express Statements in Positive Form

The positive form of a statement is generally more concise and straightforward than the negative:

no: Don't write in the negative.

yes: Write in the affirmative.

no: Disengagement of the gears is not possible without locking mechanism release.

yes: To disengage the gears, you must first release the locking mechanism.

This justification for this advice is that positives are easier to process than negatives. In more infrequently, the 'more' suggests an increase, then the 'infrequently' reverses that by suggesting a decrease in 'more of less' sort of way, which is (allegedly) more difficult to understand than less frequently.

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I don't think either sounds "weird" or is poor wording necessarily.

If you wish to stress the degree of "infrequency" of something, you would keep that and say more (or less) infrequently. It keeps the focus on how infrequent things are. It might be useful in some cases when things are all relatively infrequent, rather than frequent. It's also related to what @Kris is saying in his answer.

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