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I understand that 〜すれば〜するほど is used to mean "the more you do ~ the more ~".

However, I don't see how this meaning is derived from this sentence pattern. I assume the ば is from the conditional form and ほど is supposed to mean "extent".

人が多ければ多いほど楽しい == "The more the merrier".

However if we look at this from the actual construction it seems like: "If there are more people, the extent of more is fun."

This may sound weird, but I can't comprehend it in terms of Japanese, am I looking at it incorrectly? Is ほど a particle in this case? A noun?

Of course I can look at it and think in English "oh that sentence pattern means 'the more x the more y' and be on my way, but I would like to be able to understand in terms of Japanese grammar.

Additionally, it appears in a similar construction:

人が多いほど楽しい

In this construction, does it merely link 多い and 楽しい in a fashion that means if one is high, so it the other? Is it a particle in this case?

Edit:

To clarify, I understand the meaning and logical use of ほど in sentences such as:

彼ほど日本語がうまくない kare hodo nihongo ga umakunai
あいつを殺したいほど嫌いだ aitsu wo koroshitai hodo kirai da

These sentences make logical sense to me. "I hate him to the extent of wanting to kill him.", etc.

However, when it is used in sentences such as the following, ほど seems closer to 方が and I can't see the relation to "extent".

多いほど楽しい ooi hodo tanoshii ~= The more the better.
早いほどいい hayai hodo ii ~= The sooner the better.

vs

多い方が楽しい ooi hou ga tanoshii
早い方がいい hayai hou ga ii

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+1 for comparing ほど to 方. Now that you mentioned it, "hayai hou ga ii" looks closer to "The sooner the better" than "hayai hodo ii". –  Lukman Jun 26 '11 at 8:01
1  
The difference I would say from 方, is that 方 more strongly implies one or more alternatives and that these choices are not the "way to go". 早い方がいい implies it SHOULD be earlier, and that later may have negative consequences. 早いほどいい seems to say "sooner the better", but not necessarily that later would be bad. But maybe that's just how I see it. –  istrasci Jun 26 '11 at 18:47
    
I agree, after going over this further and with @Boaz Yaniv's answer this seems very clear. 方が indicates a suggestion, whilst ほど indicates a connection between X and Y. The higher X is, the higher Y is. –  phirru Jun 27 '11 at 13:31
    
Perhaps this question can be generalized into just the ば...ほど construction? –  Louis Jun 22 '12 at 4:25

2 Answers 2

up vote 9 down vote accepted

This is easier to explain once you realize many nouns in Japanese can be used as adverbs (or just "verbal complements" if you prefer, I don't care how you call them). In fact, most of the Japanese words that dictionaries describe as adverbs also double as nouns or adjectival nouns (na- and no-adjectives). Take 普通, for instance: it can either be an adjectival noun meaning "(being) normal" or an adverb meaning "normally", "usually".

This allows Japanese to easily fashion new adverbial constructs out of nouns, where other languages would require the special class of words called conjunctions (which barely exists in Japanese). For instance, to say "when", we just use one of the words for "time", [時]{とき} in an adverbial role, so we get:

町に行ったとき、     The time that I went to town-ADV
新しい着物を買いました。 I bought a new kimono.

Since とき here is an adverb, it describes the verb, so you could treat it as if the preposition "at" was added before it to make its English equivalent adverbial: "At the time I went to town, I bought a new kimono"

Now, back to ほど: It behaves in the same way. Let's take the sentence:

深ければ深いほど暗くなる。

Imagine me adding commas here to separate all three parts of the sentence:

深ければ、 When/if it's deep,
深いほど、 the extent that it's deep-ADV => to the extent that it's deep
暗くなる。 gets darker.

I've done the same trick again: I've added a preposition to "the extent" to indicate it's used adverbially (it describes how things are getting darker, and they are getting darker to the extent of it :)).

So if we look again at the last two parts, we have:

"It gets darker to the extent that it's deep."

So why do we need the conditional at the beginning? Well, there's no such thing as "must have" in a language, and if you want a simple answer, then that's just the way such expression ended up working in Japanese. But there is a perfectly valid historical reason for this pattern becoming the normal way of say "the more X the more Y". If you've said 深いほど暗くなる, you'd just imply that there's a consistent link between the extent of deepness and that of darkness.

But you'd usually want to topicalize one of the linked extents (that is, for instance, to mark it as the one the other guy was talking about, and to which you now link a second extent). For topicalization to work, you make a condition out of it, which boils down to something like this in a chatty translation.

"Well, you were talking about going deeper, right? If we go deeper, the deeper we go the darker it becomes."

I think this is the source of the conditional, but now it's pretty much the norm, and there's hardly anything else to contrast it with.

Edit:

I think I've misunderstood you quite a bit, but I hope my answer is still clear: ほど does indeed have meaning of "extent" and of "more", but when you say 深いほど暗くなる then you mean that it really gets darker to the extent it gets deeper. If you're very shallow then you'll have very little darkness, but if you get deeper, the extent of depth will be increased and so shall the darkness.

Yes, this does seem to be a slightly different meaning than in 殺したいほど嫌いだ, where the clause coming before ほど isn't perceived as something measurable but rather something that either happens or doesn't happen.

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This is great! Thank you! –  phirru Jun 27 '11 at 3:09

The simplest explanation is that ほど has many related but different usages. The basic meaning of ほど as a noun is the extent or degree of some attribute, and the ほど in your examples is a particle derived from this noun, meaning “the more …, the more ….” I am not sure if any grammatical analysis helps you understand the meaning of the form …れば…ほど better.

I do not think that knowing that it is a particle instead of a noun helps you understand the meaning of this form any better, but at least we can say that in the sentence 人が多いほど楽しい, no particle is omitted after ほど. On the other hand, a sentence このゲーム楽しい is informal because a particle は is omitted after ゲーム.

人が多いほど楽しい and 人が多ければ多いほど楽しい mean the same thing. The latter emphasizes the relation between 人が多い and 楽しい by repetition. See also this question.

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