Today we’re going to talk about typical mistakes made by Spanish students.
Remember the “From lost to the river”? It was based on problems with idiomatic expressions and today we bring you a post that our teacher Christopher wrote a couple of months back about the overuse of “more or less”. Thanks Chris!
Scroll down to give it a read!
One thing I’ve noticed since moving to Spain as an English teacher, is the overuse of the expression more or less by the Spanish. So, over the holidays, I’ve done some research into how more or less is normally used in English.
Form and meaning
More or less is a type of adverbial, although probably only linguists are interested in categorising it further. Cambridge online dictionary gives uses of more or less as approximation and vagueness (not being exact). Generally, it has an effect of slightly reducing the force of the verb or predicate in the phrase. It can go at the beginning, middle or end of a sentence. You can click through to Cambridge online dictionary to read more.
Overuse in Spain
These are typical questions and answers I hear in Spain:
“Did you like the film? I more or less liked it.”
“How many people were in the class last week? There were more or less seven.”
“What time is it? “It’s more or less 10 am.”
“How far is it to Santiago? “It’s more or less 70 kilometres away.”
“How long have you been learning English? For twelve years, more or less.”
“How was the hotel?” “OK, but it’s more or less changed.”
“How much time does it take to get to C1 from B2?” “It takes more or less 200 hours of study.”
“How was the meeting?” “It was more or less a success.”
“Is there any coffee left?” “It’s more or less finished.”
While this use is not incorrect, Spanish speakers of English sound very repetitive! This is because native and proficient (C1 level and above) speakers of English use a variety of ways to express approximation or vagueness. One of the most-used expressions to approximate is ‘sort of’ (kind of in American English).
In fact, ‘sort of’ appears 22,559 times in the British National Corpus, whereas ‘more or less’ comes up just 2,530 times – nearly ten times more often!
More natural alternatives to more or less
Taking the examples above, ‘more or less’ can be substituted to make what you say more interesting and natural:
“Did you like the film?” “I sort of/kind of liked it.”
“How many people were in the class last week?” “There were around seven.”
“What time is it?” “It’s about 10 am.”
“How far is it to Santiago?” “It’s roughly 70 kilometres away.”
“How long have you been learning English?” “For 12 years, give or take.”
“How was the hotel?” “OK, but it’s changed somewhat.”
“How much time does it take to get to C1 from B2?” “It takes approximately 200 hours of study.”
“How was the meeting?” “It was mostly a success.”
“Is there any coffee left?” “It’s nearly finished.”
There are many more expressions to approximate in English, including: virtually, as good as, as much as, for all intents and purposes. Check them out in the Cambridge Online Dictionary:
Understanding why Spanish people overuse more or less
This could be because of direct translation by the Spanish from ‘más o menos’, which is used frequently in Spain (though not in other Spanish speaking countries in my experience). Translation from Spanish to English is best left to licensed translators, and even among this profession it is generally accepted that the most accurate translation is into your first language!
Don’t translate from Spanish!
Don’t use ‘more or less’!
Try using some of the expressions above instead!
Introduction to the Grammar of English, R Huddleston, CUP, 1984 (2004 impression)
A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language, R Quirk, S Greenhaum, G Leech, J Svartvik, Longman, 1985 (2007 impression)
Keep practising and broadening your vocabulary #athome !