Normally when I post these tips, they are the accumulation of study I’ve done (I try to draw from at least two different respectable sources when deciding grammar) as well as my own sense of how the language works. Today’s is a little bit more of the latter, as I haven’t found many sources talking about this.
What I’m referring to as progressive comparison are phrases like “more and more” and “higher and higher”.
My general thinking is that they are redundant. But they aren’t always, and these can get tricky.
To be perfectly honest, seeing phrases like that just plain irk me. But lots of things irk lots of people, and sometimes for no good reason. That said, there are perfectly acceptable cases of this language. Consider:
The balloon went higher and higher.
Higher and higher they soared.
I would consider the first phrase to be redundant, and the second to be more acceptable. The reason is in the “went”. If they “went” higher, this implies a progressive motion, so the second “higher” only serves to establish what has already been established. The second sentence does not have this, and “higher they soared” both sounds like a fragment and draws no comparison, rendering it incomplete.
Of course, much of this is my own opinion. I would read “The balloon went higher” and infer the same meaning as “The balloon went higher and higher” unless some other point of reference were drawn:
The balloon went higher than the clouds.
If no other point of reference is present, I can usually safely assume the balloon is going higher than itself, which is to imply a progressive motion.
Obviously, it isn’t always this easy:
More ducks crossed the road.
More and more ducks crossed the road.
The first phrase might leave me wondering “more ducks than what crossed the road?” where the second implies a chain of ducks, which is the meaning I wished to convey. There does exist a safety net though, in that usually that question is answered by the context of the sentence:
A line of ducks started across the road, and he slowed the car and finally stopped. More ducks crossed the road, and he waited patiently.
With the context, we can once again draw a point of reference. More ducks crossed the road than were already crossing the road, thus “more and more” looks redundant.
In my experience, that context is almost always there, so I almost always change a progressive comparison to use only one instance of the word. I also find that the writing comes off smoother and less redundant overall, and possibly a little less cliché.
What do you think? Agree? Disagree? Know of a grammar journal that proves me wrong? Leave a comment, I’d love to hear what you have to say.