9

According to The New Penguin Russian Course (page 216):

In informal Russian по- "a little" is often added to the comparative:

побыстрее "a bit faster"

поменьше "a little less"

Now take this sentence: Тебе следует есть побольше фруктов и овощей.

Google translates it as: You should eat more fruits and vegetables.

Yandex translates it as: You ought to eat more fruits and vegetables.

Why is it more and not a little more?

More generally, how can I know when по in front of comparative means a little?

10

Russian distinguishes between true comparatives with по- (attenuative forms) and positive forms disguised as comparatives.

Compare:

  • Овощей нужно есть побольше обычного // You should be eating a bit more vegetables than you usually do.

  • Эта штука посильнее, чем "Фауст" Гёте. Любовь побеждает смерть. // This piece must be more intense than Goethe's "Faust". Love triumphs over death.

Here, the comparative adjectives are attenuatives, which would be have been similar to English forms with "-ish", like "red / reddish" etc., if those worked with comparative forms.

It sounds really weird with used with намного ("much") but works perfectly with немного ("a little"), just the same way "it's very bluish" is weird but "it's a little bluish" is OK in English.

So it's not always "a little", it could just as well mean "seems like", "to some extent", "kinda" etc., when you doubt the degree or validity of the comparison or that you're applying the right adjective at all.

  • Тебе нужно есть овощи, да побольше // You should eat vegetables, lots of them, too.

  • Возьми бинокль посильнее, Иван, и проводи меня наверх. // Ivan, take binoculars, the powerful ones, too, and walk me upstairs.

The comparative adjectives here are in fact positive forms, with emphasis on the property mentioned ("really a lot", "really powerful" etc.)

7

Actually по- doesn't literally mean a little. This makes comparatives sound more informal and it 'weakens' the usual measure of a comparative you use with it.

You really can translate Тебе следует есть побольше фруктов и овощей as You ought to eat a bit more fruits and vegetables. But only the author of the phrase can say if he/she wanted to weaken the pressure of the advice to make it sound less categorical or it just means the same as You ought to eat more fruits and vegetables.

1
  • На самом деле с предлогами по- как раз образует сравнительную степень, хотя и не всегда - ru.wiktionary.org/wiki/%D0%BF%D0%BE- при добавлении к основе прилагательного образует сравнительную степень
    – aryndin
    Apr 10 '16 at 11:00
4

Let's compare two sentences.

Тебе следует есть больше фруктов и овощей.You should eat more fruit and vegetables.

Тебе следует есть побольше фруктов и овощей.You should eat a little bit more fruit and vegetables.

The second sentence shows that the amount of useful food should be slightly increased.
And that is valid when we have a comparative degree of adverbs or adjectives meaning " slight increasing of quality "(побольше,посильнее,помягче,поярче ).I am afraid machine translating can't take into consideration such shades of meaning.

The source is Ожегов Толковый словарь русского языка.

3

"побольше" is more polite than "больше".

"Ешь больше овощей" sounds like a command, if not coming from your doctor or loving granny it's a bit offensive. But "Ешь побольше овощей" sounds like genuine caring about somebody while leaving the extent of diet adjustment up to them.

Why it does not mean "a little"? Just as in English, "You ought to eat a bit more fruits and vegetables" does not make mounds of sense.

1
  • I think, that both "Ешь больше овощей" and "ешь побольше овощей" are a rude command or at least an advise coming from the one who thinks of himself as an authority. Maybe this person is a nutritionist, in this case it's not rude. But generally both phrases are not good. Adding "по-" makes the command sound less formal, but does not soften it by a tiny bit. Apr 4 '16 at 10:59

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