The less <that> outsiders know of your business the better.

park sang joon

Senior Member
Korean
The protagonist is one of royal family members of Amber, who are half-immortal.
He just now made a date with a daughter of the prime minister from a neighboring country.
And he is now getting out of the palace.

.......................
"Less conspicuous to use one of the side doors," she said.
"You people are certainly secretive," she said.
"Habit," I replied. "The less that outsiders know of your business the better."
["Sign of Chaos" of The Great Book of Amber by Roger Zelazny]
I'd like to know why there is "that" before "the less."
Thank you in advance for your help.
 
  • perpend

    Banned
    American English
    Without "that", it could be ambiguous. "less" could be modifying "outsiders".

    The less outsiders know of your business the better.

    When it reality, "less" modifies "know".

    With "that", it makes it clear. In the context, I think it would be understood either way, though, to be honest.
     

    park sang joon

    Senior Member
    Korean
    Thank you, perpend, for your very helpful answer. :)
    Then I was wondering if "that" is a conjunction leading the noun clause "outsiders know of your business."
     

    perpend

    Banned
    American English
    A little birdie whispered into my ear that "less" is likely a noun here, in this case, PSJ. So, I have to bow out. I don't want to make anything more confusing. I am missing something in the construction. :oops:
     

    AmaryllisBunny

    Senior Member
    At least to me, the sentence sounds better without "that." It is not ambiguous, because this is a very common construction, the < >… the < >(the more the merrier/better), and also, because "less outsiders" wouldn't make sense. "Outsiders know of your business" is not a noun clause, it is the body of your sentence.

    Note, it is "the less" and not just "less," so "less" can't modify the verb. "The less" is the head of the prepositional phrase, "of your business."
     

    park sang joon

    Senior Member
    Korean
    Thank you, perpend, for your message. :)
    Thank you, AmaryllisBunny, for your very valuable opinion. :)

    AmaryllisBunny said:
    Note, it is "the less" and not just "less," so it is on the nominal form.
    In the structure "the + the comparative~, the + comparative~.", the comparative should have the definite article "the."
    So I don't think "less" is a pronoun here.
     

    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    An item that is part of an idiom can be difficult to classify, so I won't even try. I've been thinking about this one though, and perhaps someone else will have an explanation.

    "Less" here is part of the idiomatic phrase "the less...the better"/"the more...the better/merrier". The definite article seems to indicate that "more" and "less" and "better" are nouns in this type of phrase. This is similar to "the more...the more"; see this thread:
    More you play, more you could have vs. The more... the more

    On the other hand there are similar constructions with other comparatives e.g. "The higher you rise, the harder you fall", and I don't know how they would be classified.
     

    perpend

    Banned
    American English
    On the other hand there are similar constructions with other comparatives e.g. "The higher you rise, the harder you fall", and I don't know how they would be classified.
    This is where I got lost above. You could flip it: You rise higher, you fall harder. ("higher" and "harder" seem almost like adverbs)

    That would appear to mean the same thing. But when you say "the higher you rise, the harder you fall", it seems like nouns.

    They are tough grammatical nuts to crack. :)

    Stunning new avatar, veli.
     
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