improve / improve on

  • mjscott

    Senior Member
    American English
    Tom can't improve his looks.
    Tom can't improve on how he looks.
    Tom can't improve his tennis serve.
    Tom can't improve on how he serves the ball.
    Tom can't improve his first book. (The book is already written, published, copywrighted. Maybe it was perfect, and someone is commenting on a second publishing--for which he has a chance to do some editing.)
    Tom can't improve on his first book. (Wow--Tom's first book on home wiring is perfect--why is he writing another?--It's already perfect....)
     

    hly2004

    Banned
    chinese
    Hi:
    Here's how I understand:
    improve something=make something better.
    (not) improve on/upon something (based on the existing level, make it better, often with 'not')
    eg: It's easy for someone to learn a knowledge quickly. It will, however, take more and more time to reach a next level. And at last, he cannot improve on his knowledge all by himself.
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Tom can't ____ his first book. (improve / improve on)

    what's the difference between them?
    Thank you in advance.
    Tom can't improve his first book.
    That is not surprising. Tom's first book has, we assume, been printed and published. Nothing Tom can do now could possibly change it.

    Tom can't improve on his first book.
    This suggests that Tom is writing another book.
    There are at least two possible meanings:
    1> Tom is having difficulty writing his second book and none of his attempts so far have been better than his first book (which might have been dreadful).
    2> Tom's first book was so great that it is hard to imagine how he could possibly do better.
     

    LouisaB

    Senior Member
    English, UK
    Tom can't improve his first book.
    That is not surprising. Tom's first book has, we assume, been printed and published. Nothing Tom can do now could possibly change it.

    Tom can't improve on his first book.
    This suggests that Tom is writing another book.
    There are at least two possible meanings:
    1> Tom is having difficulty writing his second book and none of his attempts so far have been better than his first book (which might have been dreadful).
    2> Tom's first book was so great that it is hard to imagine how he could possibly do better.
    I'm afraid I can't improve on Panjandrum's answer. It says it all...

    Louisa
     
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