Lesson #147: An Advanced English Sentence Structure That All Native Speakers Use

📗 ‘Having decided to conquer the Land of Oz and to destroy the Emerald City and enslave all its people, King Roquat the Red kept planning ways to do this dreadful thing, and the more he planned the more he believed he would be able to accomplish it.’

– L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900)

– Have you ever come across the expression, ‘the more, the merrier’?

– Or perhaps, ‘the less said, the better’?

– How about, ‘the sooner you finish your work, the sooner you can enjoy a break’? 🤔

All of these examples have the following structure: ‘the + comparative adjective [+ complement], the + comparative adjective [+ complement]’.

These advanced sentences essentially function as adverbial constructions. You will frequently encounter or read these constructions in English all the time, particularly in spoken language.

💡 However, the majority of English learners tend not to use them, perhaps because a fundamental grasp of comparative adjectives is necessary to employ these sentences effectively. (If you wish to delve deeper into comparative adjectives, you can explore a two-part lesson I crafted on the subject here).

These ‘the … the …’ sentences are excellent structures for expressing cause and effect in an elegant way. I came across about a hundred instances of this sentence structure in the short and enjoyable The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900), by American author L. Frank Baum. 

Here are some of its clearest examples of the three possible structures of this expression, which I have parsed (broken down for the purpose of analysing) as formulas for you to follow. (All the italicised emphases are my own).


In this particular structure, there may be a noun following the first part of the construction, but rarely a verb (as is common in the second and third structures, covered further on in this lesson). Consider expressions such as ‘the stronger, the better’ – without the verb, they become more distinct and catchy.

📗 ‘“The bigger the land, the better it will suit us.”’

📗 ‘“That,” replied the tin man, “is a long story.” “The longer the better,” said the boy.’

📗 ‘“It will be rather hard for me, you must admit, when I confess to Nimmie Amee that I have come to marry her because it is my duty to do so, and therefore the fewer witnesses there are to our meeting the better for both of us.”’

– L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

📝 #2 ‘THE MORE / LESS …,  THE MORE / LESS  …’ 

This structure, much like the first one, tends to appear in more fixed or idiomatic sayings, such as ‘the more you see, the more you believe.’ That being said, L. Frank Baum creatively employed it to his advantage in the sentences below:

📗 ‘The more difficulties he encountered the more cheerful he became, and the sighs of the officers were answered by the merry whistle of the Private.’

📗 ‘“In other words, the more stupid one is, the more he thinks he knows,” observed the shaggy man.’

✏️ There are times when ‘the more’ will not be followed by any adjective or noun; ‘the more’ on its own can refer to a general entity whose identity can be guessed from the textual context. In the next quotation, we gather from the verbs that qualify it (‘know’, ‘find’) that ‘the more’ almost certainly refers to knowledge or information:

📗 ‘“Seems to me,” said Cap’n Bill, as he sat beside Trot under the big acacia tree, looking out over the blue ocean, “seems to me, Trot, as how the more we know, the more we find we don’t know.”’

👉 Notice how ‘more’ or ‘less’ can be used in the same place within the structure, depending on the sentence’s meaning:  

📗 ‘”The more I wander the less I find that I know, for in the Land of Oz much wisdom and many things may be learned.”’

– L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz


This structure is, by far, the most common version of the expression in spoken English, being the most flexible. Unlike the first structure, this one often incorporates verbs: e.g., ‘The more one knows, the luckier he is …’

This structure is also very common, as many adjectives rely on ‘more’ to qualify them as comparative adjectives since they cannot simply affix an ‘-er’ to their ending (as covered in Lesson 133 on comparative adjectives). So pay attention to the adjectives that follow the words ‘more’ or ‘less’ in the following quotations, as you may be able to borrow those exact constructions yourself. (I have italicised all the complements besides the basic ‘the more/less …, the + comparative adjective’ structures, so that should help you identify them).

📗 ‘“Experience is the only thing that brings knowledge, and the longer you are on earth the more experience you are sure to get.”’

📗 ‘There were fewer houses and fewer fruit trees, and the farther they went the more dismal and lonesome the country became.’

📗 ‘“The more one knows, the luckier he is, for knowledge is the greatest gift in life.”’

📗 ‘The old sailor did not like the idea at first, but he thought it over carefully and the more he thought the better it seemed.’

📗 ‘The nearer the travelers came to the great city the more prosperous the country became, and they crossed many bridges over the sparkling streams and rivulets that watered the lands.’

📗 ‘Not even a shepherd was to be met with now, and the farther they advanced the more dreary the landscape became.’

📗 ‘The nearer they came, the more beautiful the palace appeared, and when finally the Scarecrow led them up the great marble steps, even Button-Bright was filled with awe.’

✍️ If you are ambitious you could extend this sentence structure to include three parts, such as in these examples: ‘the bigger … the more powerful, and the more difficult …’; ‘the more … and the less .., the better …’:

📗 ‘“It is a great thing you ask of me, O Rango the Gray Ape,” said he, “for the bigger the giants are the more powerful their enchantment, and the more difficult it will be to restore them to their natural forms.’

📗 ‘The more plunder and the less fighting we get, the better we shall like our work.”’

– L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

I hope that all these examples, along with the formulas for constructing these sentences, will significantly advance and enrich your English expression with more subtlety and nuance.

by J. E. Gibbons

English language tutor and researcher at 'Learn English Through Literature' (2024)