Posted by Henry on August 24, 2003
In Reply to: Foolish answer posted by R. Berg on August 24, 2003
: : : : 'He is less of a fool than I thought he was.'
: : : : and 'It might be less of a problem ethically'
: : : : How to explain 'less of'?
: : : : I've never seen this kind of grammatical rule.
: : : It's a comparative. It means smaller in size or degree. You could also say 'It might not be such a big problem ethically' or 'It might be a smaller problem ethically.'
: : : The first phrase has an added complication. You could also say 'He is not as big a fool as I thought he was.' However, in English you can have a bigger fool but not a smaller fool! Although grammatically correct, it would not be idiomatic to say 'He is a smaller fool than I thought he was.'
: : ::: Wow, now I'm intrigued to know how you can have one without the other. The concept that we can have bigger fools but not smaller fools I don't understand. If you can have a degree of foolishness, how can it only be one way? This is a genuine query, I have no pre-conceived ideas about this, I'm just fascinated at the possibility.
: There can be greater fools and lesser fools; that pair of adjectives exhibits the symmetry you seek.
Thank you RB. Of course there are people of varying degrees of foolishness. It's just a quirk of the English language that there is this limitation on expressing the degree.
Idiom is very difficult to master. A very clever French boy came to stay one summer, but later did poorly in his English exams. I can only imagine that his knowledge of idiom was greater than his examiner's. Perhaps his examiner asked him if he found English difficult to learn. He might have mystified his examiner by replying, "No, it's a piece a cake!"