The question Is the “the … the …” construction governed by some grammatical rule? has recently been asked on ELL. I don't know whether the OP was aware that effectively the same question (Use of definite article in “the more” and “the less”) was asked on ELU some time ago, but I don't really want to focus on the implications of that anyway.

Personally, I'm inclined to think this particular question involves some fairly obscure issues that shouldn't normally concern the average learner (as I imagine them to be). So my question is: Should it be closed on ELL? (irrespective of the fact that it happens to have been asked on ELU previously).

Because it's early days for ELL, I'd appreciate comments/answers, rather than straight up/downvotes to my question (and by implication, my personal position). But I appreciate that it might be considered inappropriate to even be asking a question like this (should I try to start a chat thread? I don't know). Since I've no way of knowing what any votes against the question itself mean, they won't help me much.


4 Answers 4


I think the question does belong here. This is not by any means to say that the concern you raise is irrelevant; merely that I feel that in this particular instance it's misplaced.

1) The question on ELU to which you link is not "effectively the same as" this one. The question on ELU asks about the origin of the construction, this one asks whether the rule (if any) governing use of the construction forbids omitting the definite articles. The answer provided on ELU does not address this one.

2) The question asked here does not, to my mind, involve "fairly obscure issues". The question to which you link point forward to other ELU questions which elicit answers of considerable obscurity; but I don't think any of that need be addressed here.

Yet another question, which may very well be too complex to address here, is raised and discussed in the Comments; but that is entirely irrelevant to either this question or its answer. It may be appropriate to ask whether the comments should be deleted, or the discutants invited to post a question on ELU.

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    I must admit that's a pretty good answer you just posted on main. Had it been there before I probably wouldn't have raised the matter here! I think the point you make (early!) about it not illustrating any "general-purpose" principles of syntax is important. I'd suggest linking to the ELU question, and maybe mentioning that the reason why it doesn't fit normal grammar involving the definite article is because this "the" has a different history to the standard one. But Hey! you're the teacher, not me. Feb 1, 2013 at 3:53
  • @FumbleFingers Thanks. I'm still of two minds about background depth; I found it very helpful when I was learning languages, but it didn't come from my teachers but from my father (who of course was a teacher, too, but of English lit, not ESL). I'm not a teacher, myself, I just play one on TV. Feb 1, 2013 at 12:52
  • I'm not in that position, but if I were learning English, I think I'd find it very useful to note your initial point in the answer (this construction is a grammatical law unto itself, so by implication don't waste brain cells trying to fit it in with other aspects of grammar that you're learning). One more sentence touching on why it came to be thus wouldn't go amiss, imho. Not that the learner needs bother committing that background explanation to memory for future reference - just to reassure him it's not a totally "random" feature of the language! Feb 1, 2013 at 14:12
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    @FumbleFingers You've convinced me, and I've added an HISTORICAL NOTE. Feb 1, 2013 at 14:54

Closed and referenced to the answer at ELU? That would make sense perhaps with a "message" that it would require some advanced understanding and is hence being closed on ELL.

  • That would seem good to me. I'd just warn learners that they can't hope to grasp any generic principles from this "fossilised" construction - use it if they want to learn it as a one-off, but be warned it doesn't follow common current principles of productive grammar. Feb 1, 2013 at 2:15
  • I'd say no. The answer on ELU can be referenced but first, it doesn't answer the question ("can the the be dropped?") and the question IS a valid ELL level one, even if the answer may dangerously steer into uncharted waters...
    – SF.
    Feb 1, 2013 at 3:46

Let's take this apart:

There are three questions (1), (2) and (3) in our question.

(1)Is the “the … the …” construction governed by some grammatical rule?

a) The more I study, the less I learn.

b) More I study, less I learn.

(2) Could we rewrite the sentence shown under the letter a) in the form shown under the letter b) without breaking any grammatical rule? (3) If not, why not?

The ELU answer doesn't even touch (2) which is totally an ELL question. It's seeing an informal construct in the wild and asking its correctness and usage, which is a perfectly right thing for a user to do, and which should be lauded and answered: "You are breaking rules of grammar but b) is a common informal expression, frequently used in speech but in writing only if you're writing dialogue.". For this reason alone this question should not be closed, migrated or deferred to the ELU answer.

Then the asker proceeds to try to go deeper, with (3) and in the end probably types (1) which is entirely laudable effort though with unforseen consequences.

"As for your topic question(1), here are some rules..." - StoneyB's answer which is still perfectly within our scope. These are simple, newbie-friendly rules to using that expression.

And then we come to a question which is what sets ELU apart from ELL: a Why? question. (3) is really an ELU question. ELL user should accept "Because that's wrong." It's the answerer's good will then to choose to reference them to ELU's specific question or just send them there to ask.

In summary: (1)+1, (2)+1, (3)-1. I'd say upvote the question unless you want to punish the asker for asking too many questions and causing confusion, and don't close it, but maybe tidy it up by downplaying (3) or even censoring it altogether.

  • Following StoneyB's answer I don't have a problem with anything here either. He sets out the full scope of the construction and warns that it's effectively "idiomatic" today (not covered by current rules of grammar). I don't think there's a problem with ELL regularly pointing out what's idiomatic (and possibly, optional, for learners) and what's regular grammar (and therefore well worth getting to grips with). Feb 1, 2013 at 4:22

This matter is already being discussed in the meta.ell question: What to do when an ELL question matches an ELU question?.

I'm not any expert in English language, but I don't think that such question as the one being discussed here involves "fairly obscure issues that shouldn't normally concern the average learner". Indeed myself have been interested in this question before.

I think that question here in ELL, should receive an answer not so deep and comprehensive as the one it will surely receive in ELU.

  • As I said at least twice in my question, I don't want to get bogged down in the matter of it having been previously asked on ELU. Therefore I'm downvoting this answer, because it makes no meaningful attempt to answer the question I did ask. Should it be closed on ELL?. @Nicholas: Did you even look at the (only) answer on ELU? It's only two sentences. How "shallow and narrow-focussed" do you want the ELL answer to be? Feb 1, 2013 at 2:10
  • I'm sorry you haven't been able to understand that since I think that question should receive an answer not so deep..., what I think is that question should not be closed at all.
    – Nicolás
    Feb 1, 2013 at 2:23
  • And you should certainly moderate the way you write, and the way you deal with your fellow partners here, if you want to constructively contribute to this emerging site. At least count until ten before writing such a message.
    – Nicolás
    Feb 1, 2013 at 2:25
  • I cannot for the life of me see how the ELU answer could be significantly reduced or improved upon. It remains the case that over 75% of the text in your answer addresses something I asked not to be an issue, and your final sentence remains carelessly supercilious - the ELU question was asked and answered 18 months ago (I said "some time ago" in my question text). Yet you write of the "comprehensive ... (answer) ... it will surely receive in ELU". Perhaps I should moderate my phrasing, but you should do me the honour of paying more attention. Feb 1, 2013 at 2:55

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