The meaning of “the” in a standalone “the greater”

Often I read that “X’s quality Y was the greater by virtue of Z”, which makes perfect sense as a result of me being used to this form of expression, but not when I am now trying to understand what is that “the” referring to. If we drop the “the”, what precisely happens to the meaning? Which is the the‘s noun?

In particular, I can’t figure out which one to use:

"Because A is much greater than B, C is also greater."


"Because A is much greater than B, C is also the greater."


It seemed quite clear to me at the time of writing, but now that I re-read the question and the answers, I can see that this is quite confusing, actually. Because I didn’t provide examples.

Example: from here (emphasis mine 🙂

The excitement was the greater because constitutional, or quasi-constitutional, issues were intertwined to an almost Tudor degree with the personal and dynastic; indeed the wider significance is the more pressing because of the passions with which recent events have been fuelled.

This has the form:

A was the greater because B, C, D, E, blah blah

Pretty awful piece of pretentious writing if you ask me, but it does use language correctly.

Example: from Mrs Daffodil Digresses (emphasis mine)

[…] husband […] refused to revisit the scene […] and remained inexorable, when Alphonse F., entering while the discourse continued, volunteered to spare his friend’s feelings by visiting the chateau and obtaining the required papers.

The marquis thanked him cordially, adding, that the relief was the greater, inasmuch as he would have been compelled to enter their favourite sitting-room, in which their last, as well as so many happier, hours were passed.

Example: from The British Magazine (emphasis mine)

[…] they broke open the doors, and were confounded at finding the habitations abandoned. Their astonishment was the greater, as they could not comprehend in what manner the French escaped; and when they did, they could not make use of their canoes pursue the fugitives, because the were still encumbered with ice, which prevented that kind of navigation.

So, this usage is usually to be found in literary works of archaic variety. I’m leaning to treat it as one of those language patterns that doesn’t have an analytic explanation, and is to be learnt and used as a unit, by feel. I suppose that it can be interchanged with “greater still” in all of those examples, and feels about right. So my rule for its appropriateness would be: it’s appropriate to use iff substitution with “greater still” preserves the meaning.


Yours is an interesting problem, but the way you’ve posed your question isn’t the most thankful, and I don’t think everybody here has distilled the problem correctly. Here are your sentences, “downsampled”:

  • The relief was the greater, inasmuch as he would have been compelled to enter.
  • Their astonishment was the greater, as they could not comprehend how the French escaped.
  • The excitement was the greater because constitutional issues were intertwined.

Other ones like them can be easily googled:

  • His friends caused him many disappointments, which were the more bitter to him, inasmuch as he regarded friendship as such a sacred institution

I believe that they have the same construction, which does relate two elements, say, A and B, but not via comparison. Yes, the adjective indeed is in the comparative form, but what is compared are the actions/events/states, and relation is more that of equality. I also believe that that construction is just a variant, whether more or less aptly crafted by their authors, of the construction called “THE… THE…” or “The more, the merrier” or “The more, the more.” (some basic info on it)

Let me try to illuminate precisely what relation we are dealing with here, with a more prosaic sentence (also from the internet):

···· Our team was very well connected, and that made the trip that much more enjoyable.

This is the same as:

···· The trip was made that much more enjoyable for our team’s having been well connected.

You’re undoubtedly familiar with sentences of this type. (Here’s one off Google: “[This is an] underground band whose greatness is that much more shocking for its being so largely unknown.”) This is the logic the writer applies:

···· The more one’s team is well connected, the more enjoyable the trip is.

That’s the “The more the merrier” or “THE…THE…” construction. However, with “THE…THE…” construction, there is no limit as to how much more—something is of whatever quality. That’s why in the situations in which B can help measure A’s quality (well, in the “The… The…” construction, it’s the other way around: A measures B), speakers/writers reach for, let’s call them, measure-conjunctions or limit-conjunctions, such as insomuch, insomuch as, inasmuch as and as (and even because). So, let’s apply one of those conjunctions:

···· The trip was made that much more enjoyable, insomuch as our team was well connected.

Now, “that much” quickly followed by “insomuch as” sounds to some people as being too predictive and unexciting. The “that” already represents a measure, and then, the measure is repeated by “(in)so(much as)”. They’d much rather evoke the “The… the…”-ness, so they intermix the “The.. the…” construction with the construction involing a limit-conjunction. They substitute “the” for “that much”, and they get:

···· The trip was made the more enjoyable, insomuch as our team was well connected.

I do not know how grammatically sound those mixes are, but they don’t sound bad to me.

So, I hope the meaning and logic of those sentences is now clearer.

But what of the syntax of the “The… The…” construction (if we assume that I’ve correctly identified it)? What part of speech is that strange the? Well, the linguists don’t have a definite agreement about it. Here’s some stuff off Google:

And then there’s the case of those constructions (beloved by proponents of construction grammar) that elude any rigid classification, and seem to have meaning irrespective of the words that fill their slots, such as ‘the -er, the -er’ (the more the merrier, the stronger the better, the older. the wiser etc) [link]


Difficult syntactic problems

A construction that has been the subject of much debate is the so-called “the more the merrier” construction (also called the “covariational conditional construction” (Goldberg and Casenhiser, 2006) and “correlative the-clauses”), examples of which are given in (9)–(11).

(9) The more the merrier.
(10) The more chips you eat, the more you want.
(11) The bigger they come, the harder they fall.

Among other issues, it has been debated how the definite article should be analyzed here, since it is not clear that it is a determiner in this construction. [link]


Similarly, the following examples suggest that the “more-more” construction discussed by Goldberg (1995, 2006) and Jackendoff (1990) is headed by the definite article:

a. The more books you buy, the merrier person you think yo u become.
b. #A/several/some more books you buy, the merrier person yo u think you become.

(We pass over the elliptical form of this construction, as in “The more, the merrier”)


THE…THE construction

The first THE thing is the head of a sort of comparative, while the second THE is a topic.

Source : Link , Question Author : Evgeni Sergeev , Answer Author : Talia Ford

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