The Grammarphobia Blog

Mo’ better blues

Q: My friend says he likes bebop “better than” the blues, but I say I like bebop “more than” the blues. What’s the difference? Is one adverb more intense than the other? Are both usages correct?

A: I don’t think there’s much if any difference in the degree of intensity between “more” and “better” when they’re used as adverbs to modify the verb “like” (e.g., “I like Monk more” vs. “I like Monk better”).

The adverb “more” has been used to modify verbs since Old English, and means “in a greater degree” or “to a greater extent.” The adverbial use was first recorded around the year 1000.

The adverb “better” has been used to modify verbs since the 1200s and means “in a more excellent way” or “in a superior manner.”

The Oxford English Dictionary has this quotation from a book by Pierre Erondelle, The French Garden (1605): “God grant me alwaies the key of the fieldes, I would like it better, then to be in bondage in the fayrest wainscotted or tapistred Chamber.”

In short, I think “more/most” and “better/best” are about equally expressive when you want to convey a preference with “like” and similar verbs.

Of course there’s a slight difference. “More” conveys quantity, and “better” conveys quality. But with the verb “like,” I think the difference is nil for all practical purposes. The choice is up to you.

If you want to read more, I wrote a blog item about “more” and “most” not long ago.

An interesting aside: An earlier form of “better,” the now archaic word “bet,” was used to modify verbs and was first recorded in the year 888. For example, the poem Piers Plowman (1377) has this passage: “do-wel, do-bet, and do-best.”

Today, of course, we’d write that as “do well, do better, and do best.” The old “bet” was displaced by “better” and finally disappeared in the 1600s.

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