For the better part of a century

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  • PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    The better part of a <insert quantity> = the greater part of a <quantity> [a good deal] more than half a <quantity>; much of a <quantity>.

    The better part of is one of several English phrases that are intentionally vague. They are not meant to be precise at all and there is no way of knowing how much (of something) they indicate:

    A: "Oh! So you have arrived! I was here at 2 o'clock, as we arranged, and I was waiting the better part of an hour for you to arrive!"

    Also (the best part of ... and a good part of ... which are less formal than a better part.)
     
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    Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    I don't think "the better part" requires the precision that Andycg gives it in post #5; if you wanted accuracy you could easily find another expression to use.

    In England, schoolchildren are typically at school for about 38 weeks of the year, so I would have no problem saying that children spend the better part of the year at school, even though they quite clearly spend more time in bed than actually in class.
     

    amirmg

    Senior Member
    Farsi
    I meant the better tome of their day of course.
    In other words I was trying to say the most of their active time. When they are awake. Do you have any specific word for this time ?
    Working hours is fine for adults, I failed to find an appropriate word for children.
     

    lingobingo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    the better part of = most (or nearly all) of

    Best known from the proverb: Discretion is the better part of valour

    But it needs to be used with caution. It’s likely to sound odd if you just try to apply it to everyday situations, unless it’s to do with time (which it usually is):

    We’ve already been waiting here for the better part of an hour
    They rode hard for the better part of two days after fleeing the inn (line from a novel)
    He’s been going there every week for the better part of three years
    EDIT: I forgot to mention that it’s also (probably more commonly, in fact) used in the form the best part of.
     

    Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    For me, "the better part" (and indeed most other expressions of proportion) can omit sleeping hours, without making any special mention of it. One handy way of excluding sleeping hours is to use "of the day" or (better) "of their day" (or whatever pronoun applies). "I spend most of the/my day at work" does not ordinarily mean that I am there for at least twelve hours.

    "The day" has a number of meanings and could be misconstrued as daylight hours (or the full twenty-four hours), but using a pronoun helps make it clear it is waking hours that are being spoken about.
     
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