What's with this sentence structure?
January 1, 2006 3:45 PM   Subscribe

I'm confused by the sentence structure of "The more I chew, the sorer my jaw gets" and "the heavier the atom, the less it rotates." Do these "The more..the less..." sentences have understood omitted verbs or something? They seem to not have all the prescribed elements of a sentence.
posted by eighth_excerpt to Writing & Language (12 answers total)
Yes. It's an idiomatic expression.
posted by ParisParamus at 3:50 PM on January 1, 2006

I wish I could do a sentence diagram here...

Stripping things down to their basics, the two examples you've provided are built on the sentences "jaw gets sorer" and "it rotates less". Both perfectly cromulent sentences. I do believe that "the more I chew" and "the heavier the atom" are dependant adverbial clauses modifying the verbs "gets" and "rotates", respectively.
posted by mr_roboto at 3:53 PM on January 1, 2006

It's got nothing to do with them being idiomatic expressions. Countless idiomatic expressions aren't constructed this way, nor is "the more I chew, the sorer my jaw gets" exactly a well-known, frequently quoted saying.

To build on mr_roboto's answer: I think that what might also be throwing you, eighth_exerpt, is what's missing-but-understood in such sentences is "then," "therefore," or some other linking word signifying causality -- i.e., "the more I chew, (THEN) the sorer my jaw gets" [which, as mr_roboto notes, is just another way of saying "my jaw gets sorer," which clearly has the expected elements of a complete sentence].
posted by scody at 3:59 PM on January 1, 2006

"the heavier the atom is, the less it rotates" - missing verb

The more I chew, the sorer my jaw (muscle?) gets - possible missing noun, but not essentially.
posted by dash_slot- at 4:07 PM on January 1, 2006

What Mr Roboto said, per my sentence diagramming class.

I think you've got something called extrapolated causality, too.
posted by acoutu at 4:21 PM on January 1, 2006

Response by poster: I see.

It's like "As I chew more, my jaw gets sorer" structurally.
posted by eighth_excerpt at 4:30 PM on January 1, 2006

The construction is known as the comparitive correlative. It shows what's called 'parallel increase' -- equivalent intensifiers in each clause. I can't find any wonderful sites explaining this right now, but many ESL sites offer some examples:
iv. The construction with The ..., the ...:

Two clauses, each beginning with the, and each containing a comparative form of an adjective or adverb, can be used together in order to indicate a cause and effect relationship between two different things or events.

In your example, the use of 'sorer' muddies the water somewhat. It really is parallel, with "sorer" just intensifying "sore" (because "more sore" wouldn't be conventional). To create a direct parallel, you could also say "The more I chew, the more my jaw hurts."
posted by Miko at 4:34 PM on January 1, 2006

Response by poster: Would it be classified as compound, complex, simple, compound-complex, or none?
posted by eighth_excerpt at 4:41 PM on January 1, 2006

If you can stomach the technical linguistics, you might glance at this (pdf). In particular, the syntactic tree on p. 11 schematizes the construction in a not-entirely-accessible way. If nothing else, you might find it fun to look at the examples from other languages.

Would it be classified as compound, complex, simple, compound-complex, or none?

This kind of classification can't really handle constructions like this. Neither clause can be called independent because you can't leave either one out, and the sentence is certainly not simple. I suppose one might say that there are two dependent clauses (dependent on each other), that is, "none of the above". This 4-way classification of sentences is at best a teaching aid for ESL classes, and if you start poking at the grammar of any language you'll find it not to hold up.
posted by advil at 5:35 PM on January 1, 2006

I can't help, but your post brought back a memory from about 15 years ago when I used to teach preschool. I'd taken the kids to a public pool, and this one little boy, Ryan, needed to use the bathroom. They were too young to go without supervision, so I got out of the pool and walked with him to the men's room. He got into a stall and closed the door behind him. I waited. And waited. And waited. And waited.

"Ryan," I called. "Are you okay?" He groaned. "Ryan?" I called again. "Ryan, what's going on?"

There was a pause. Then he said, with the most forlorn little voice I'd ever heard, "The more I wipe, the more there is."

posted by grumblebee at 5:41 PM on January 1, 2006 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: amazing story grumble bee

advil -- you're right the examples of other languages were fun and illuminating. I skimmed it and may pay more attention to it someday.
posted by eighth_excerpt at 5:55 PM on January 1, 2006

advil, a linguist friend and I were just discussing this last night. I look forward to reading the paper.
posted by greatgefilte at 9:46 PM on January 1, 2006

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