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ARTICLE. The with comparatives

The (in Early Eng. thi, thy) is used as the ablative of the demonstrative and relative, with comparatives to signify the measure of excess or defect.

This use is still retained. "The sooner the better," i.e. "By how much the sooner by so much the better." (Lat. "quo citius, eo melius.")

It is sometimes stated that "the better" is used by Shakespeare for "better," &c.: but it will often, perhaps always, be found that the has a certain force.

“The good conceit I hold of thee
Makes me the better to confer with thee.

The rather
For that I saw.

In both passages "the" means "on that account." In

“Go not my horse the better
I must become a borrower of the night,

Banquo is perhaps regarding his horse as racing against night, and "the better" means "the better of the two." The following passage has been quoted by commentators on the passage just quoted, to show that "the" is redundant. "And hee that hit it (the quintain) full, if he rid not the faster, had a sound blow in his neck, with a bag full of sand hanged on the other end."--STOWE's Survey of London, 1603. But the rider is perhaps here described as endeavouring to anticipate the blow of the quintain by being "the faster" of the two. Or more probably, "the faster" may mean the faster because he had struck the quintain, which, if struck, used to swing round and strike the striker on the back, unless he rode the ("on that account") faster. In either case it is unscholar-like to say that the is redundant.

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