Skip to Content

“More Importantly”: Separating Grammar Myths from Reality

There is a tendency in the English language to overemphasize in order to make a point. This results in repetitive phrases in writing, such as bare necessities (necessities implies that you have only what you need), personal opinion (it’s your opinion, so it’s personal), and added bonus (a bonus is already an addition). 

But this concept gets confusing when you have an adverb. Take the phrase more importantly, for example. A reader once asked me about my usage of this phrase in an article. The sentence in question read: 

More importantly, learn from your mistakes. Figure out where you went wrong so that you can do things differently next time.

The reader explained that they were taught that more important is the correct way to introduce an assertion, and that more importantly is incorrect. Which one is it? Is more importantly just another example of overemphasizing our point? 

Sentence modifiers, adjectives or adverbs that modify the entire sentence, have historically given language users trouble. Perhaps that’s because they’re a less concrete notion, so they’re harder to understand. What they modify isn’t one word or phrase within the sentence but the sentence itself.

For example, although it had been used as a sentence adverb since the 17th century, hopefully was suddenly maligned as ungrammatical, with no supporting evidence, in the 19th century. Over time, we’ve come to see that hopefully is as grammatical a choice for modifying a sentence as, say, truthfully, which we accept without comment.

More importantly has come under fire only as recently as the late 1960s. As with hopefully, people suddenly became aware of a structure and weren’t sure whether it was grammatical. (It’s unclear how old more importantly and more important as sentence modifiers are, although important dates to 1586 and importantly to 1616.) Usage experts came down on both sides of the argument.

No one was bothered by a bare importantly modifying the sentence, however. Why did the addition of more or most cause it to be ungrammatical?

The answer, of course, is that it didn’t. Something about this phrase just struck some people wrong. Arguments for why more important was grammatical and more importantly wasn’t have been disproved repeatedly, and both Garner’s Modern English Usage and Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage tell us either structure is grammatical.

Be conscious about grammar, and be conscious about repetition. But in this case, select whichever option conveys the author’s authentic voice, especially if they are trying to emphasize their point. 

Read more about these terms in “A Most Important(ly) Lesson.”

5 thoughts on ““More Importantly”: Separating Grammar Myths from Reality

  1. Thank you, Erin, for this clarification.

    This argument especially works: “No one was bothered by a bare importantly modifying the sentence, however. Why did the addition of more or most cause it to be ungrammatical?”

    1. At a guess, perhaps important looks like one of those absolute binary adjectives for which comparative adverbs are often prohibited: adjectives like pregnant, dead, or unique, which are not supposed to have degrees. One can imagine an aggressive pedant saying that a thing is either important or it is not, but a little reflection shows that’s wrong: importance does come in degrees. A reader who isn’t sure about the rule might still be bothered by a qualifying adverb on a condition that is often but not always binary, and knowing enough to be bothered but not enough to dismiss it, formulates a semi-conscious rule to suppress that feeling.


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.