Pattern: The more… the more…

Credits: Thanks to Jean for giving me the idea for this lesson.

This lesson introduces a common grammar pattern that you may be unaware of. This pattern is (the more…the more…). The elegance of this pattern is that it is very concise. You can express a complicated relationship very simply.

Here are some examples of this pattern:

The more, the merrier. (more people = more merry)

The bigger they are, the harder they fall. (more big = more hard)

The harder you try, the less progress you make. (more try = less progress)

Converting this statement:

the more we are close to our goal, the more the drawbacks amount high and cost us even more efforts.

Using this pattern, we could say:

The closer we get to our goal, the higher the drawbacks and the more costly the effort.

Converting this statement:

The more you are close to the weight you wanted to reach, the more dieting is hard

Using this pattern, we could say:

The closer you are to your desired weight, the harder dieting becomes.


The statement “The closer you get, the harder it gets” describes what we call thelaw of diminishing returns. Using this pattern, this means:

The closer you get to 100%, the more effort it takes for each 1% increase.

As a practical example, you can do something 50% perfect with very little effort. With a little more effort, you could reach 70 to 80% perfect. With even more effort, you could reach 95% perfect. But to go from 95% to 100% perfect might require a tremendous amount of effort. That’s why many human engineering designs are based on the 5% and 95% percentiles of human body shapes. Because achieving that extra 5% to achieve perfection is too costly financially and time-resource-wise.

Approaching the speed of light is another example. The closer you get to reaching the speed of light, the harder and harder it gets to raise your speed by just 1%.

An idiom that expresses the law of diminishing returns to some degree is:

When the going gets tough, the tough get going.

This means when progress starts requiring more and more effort for each % increase (the going gets tough), the workers must begin working harder and harder (only tough people are able to continue to make progress).


To introduce a somewhat humorous idiom, the US government often has to do things on a shoestring budget (with minimum money available). So once they reach “good enough”, they stop working on an effort due to the law of diminishing returns. In other words, they don’t have enough money to go from “good enough” to “even better” to “excellent”.

So when we do a minimal effort that just meets our needs, we stop and say,

That’s close enough for government work.


Here is an ironic saying that uses this pattern. What do you think it means?

The more things change, the more they remain the same.


Students, pick one or two sentences below and try to describe the situation using the (the more…the more…) pattern.

  1. If I play the piano longer each day, my progress seems to increase more.
  2. If I get closer to the stage, I can hear the speaker better.
  3. If I ask many people’s opinions, I get better results.
  4. Bob is a collector. He buys a lot of beer steins. The result is that his display shelves are getting more crowded each day.
  5. It seems to me that his face gets uglier after each “corrective” surgery he has.
  6. As Congress questions Hillary Clinton about her email scandal, it seems that as the number of her responses grows, the number of lies she is telling is growing as well.

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