Correlatively Comparatively Speaking, Part II
Posted by Neal on March 14, 2013
On Fritinancy, Nancy Friedman commented on a poster for a walk for breast cancer. Here’s the poster, lifted from Nancy’s blog post:
As I see it, the line needs a second relative pronoun to be properly parallel in structure: “The more of us who walk, the more of us who survive.”
She wanted another who in there so that the two parts of this comparative correlative would be maximally parallel, but in fact, there are some speakers who wouldn’t even put a who in the first part. As for me, I’m not even sure what I would do. (Maybe I should do a search on this blog and see if I’ve generated any data that would say.)
The uncertainty comes from the fact that comparative correlatives like the one Nancy found are a little different from others. In many comparative correlative clauses, the comparative part — the X-er — corresponds to a gap in the remainder of the clause. This gap might be a direct object gap, as in (1) below; an indirect object gap, as in (2); or a prepositional object gap, as in (3). It can even be a predicative adjective gap, as in (4), adverbial gap, as in (5).
- DO gap: the more [I learn __]
- IO gap: the more people [you give __ a break]
(if you allow extraction from ditransitive VPs)
- PrepObj gap: the more people [we talk to ___]
- PredAdj gap: the happier [we’ll be ___]
- Adv gap: the more [we get together ___]
Interestingly, all these kinds of comparative clauses can also have a relative pronoun before the gappy part of the clause, as if it were an actual relative clause. Even the gaps for predicative adjectives and adverbs can take a relativizer, as long as it’s that. Instead of making up examples this time, here are some from Google:
- DO gap: The more people who [you can get ___ to dine with us that day]
- IO gap: the more people that [you give __ a break]
(OK, I did make this one up)
- PrepObj gap: the more people that [you can connect with ___]
- PredAdj gap: “The Smarter That [I Think I Am ___], the Dumber [I Get ___]”
- Adv gap: The faster that [the boat goes ___]
Example (9) is interesting in that it’s like Nancy’s example: a relativizer in the first clause (the smarter that I think I am), but not in the second (the dumber I get). But let’s leave aside relative pronouns for the moment and talk about the main difference between Nancy’s example and other comparative correlatives. It’s easier to see if we put some brackets in them and gap labels, the way we did with the others:
- Subj gap: the more of us who [___ walk]
- Subj gap: the more of us [___ survive]
In these examples, the comparative phrase the more of us corresponds to a subject gap in the remainder of the clause. In (11), this linkage is handled by the relative pronoun who. In (12), it isn’t. If you think of comparative clauses as relative-clause structures, then probably you don’t like (12), because in English, you typically can’t delete relative pronouns that connect to a subject gap. (The exceptions are in sentences such as There was a farmer had a dog.) But if you never thought of comparative clauses as a kind of relative clause — in other words, if you just thought of them as the, plus a phrase containing a comparative adjective/adverb/determiner, plus a clause missing that same kind of phrase — then there should be no problem with (12).
If you’re one of the speakers who are OK with (12), and in general don’t think of comparative correlatives as a species of relative clause structure, I suspect that you still might be comfortable uttering comparative clauses like the more of us who walk. The reason involves a third kind of comparative correlative that I haven’t been talking about. However, that’s a whole ‘nother kettle of worms, which will have to come in a separate post. See you then!