Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Should it be "more important" or "more importantly"?

From Garner's Usage Tip of the Day:

more important(ly)

As an introductory phrase, "more important," has historically been considered an elliptical form of "What is more important," and hence the "-ly" form is sometimes thought to be the less desirable. Yet three points militate against this position.

First, if we may begin a sentence "Importantly, the production appeared first off Broadway . . . ," we ought to be able to begin it, "More importantly, . . . ."

Second, the ellipsis does not work with analogous phrases, such as "more notable" and "more interesting." Both of those phrases require an "-ly" adverb -- e.g.: "More interestingly, he earns lots of money." David Beckham, "Why Are They Famous?" Independent, 31 Aug. 1997.

And third, if the position is changed from the beginning of the sentence in any significant way, the usual ellipsis becomes unidiomatic and "-ly" is quite acceptable -- e.g.: "Shrage believes that the strategy should not be to reverse the intermarriage rate, as some activists argue, but to make sure that intermarried couples embrace Judaism and, more importantly, commit to raising their children as Jews." Diego Ribadeneira, "Jewish Community Flourishing, New Report Says," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 6 Sept. 1997.

The criticism of "more importantly" and "most importantly" has always been rather muted and obscure, and today it has dwindled to something less than muted and obscure. So writers needn't fear any criticism for using the "-ly" forms; if they encounter any, it's easily dismissed as picayunish pedantry.

2 comments:

Andrew said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Andrew Bulgin said...

The author of this article provides no sound grammatical argument in favor of the use of "more importantly" and "most importantly".

He, or she, is simply wrong.

The author states the following: "First, if we may begin a sentence "Importantly, the production appeared first off Broadway . . . ," we ought to be able to begin it, "More importantly, . . . .""

No, we may not begin a sentence in such a way, and so the argument that follows is invalid.

Would the following equivalent sentence make sense?

"The production appeared first off Broadway importantly."

The second argument is as follows: "Second, the ellipsis does not work with analogous phrases, such as "more notable" and "more interesting." Both of those phrases require an "-ly" adverb -- e.g.: "More interestingly, he earns lots of money." David Beckham, "Why Are They Famous?" Independent, 31 Aug. 1997."

The ellipsis does work with analogous phrases, the author just does not know what the non-elliptical equivalent of the correct sentence is supposed to be: "What is more interesting is that he earns lots of money."

"What is more important is that the production appeared first off Broadway", for example, is thus shortened, correctly, to "More important, the production appeared first off Broadway".

The third argument seeks, as the first and second do, to make an incorrect usage correct by citing examples of such incorrect usage by well-known authors.


The author's last statement that such arguments as mine are "picayunish pedantry" implies that those who argue against the use of "more importantly" and "most importantly" have a point but that their point is unimportant. It seeks to distract attention from the real argument by what the author thinks is colorful alliteration. It is not pedantry (slavish adherence to rules) if it is incorrect. While what I write here may indeed be construed by some as pedantry, it is not incorrect.

Bitchy remarks do not constitute a sound grammatical argument. The author's argument against arguments such as mine seems to boil down to the irrelevant fact that he just does not like them.