Comparative Forms of Adjectives

By Maeve Maddox

Adjectives have inflections. That is, adjectives change in spelling according to how they are used in a sentence.

Adjectives have three forms: positive, comparative, and superlative.

The simplest form of the adjective is its positive form. When two objects or persons are being compared, the comparative form of the adjective is used. When three or more things are being compared, we use the adjective’s superlative form.

A few adjectives, like good and bad form their comparatives with different words:

That is a good book. This is a better book. Which of the three is the best book?
He made a bad choice. She made a worse choice. They made the worst choice of all.

The comparative forms of most adjectives, however, are formed by adding the suffixes
er and –est, or by placing the words more and most in front of the positive form.

RULES FOR FORMING COMPARATIVES:
1. One syllable words form the comparative by adding -er and -est:

brave, braver, bravest
small, smaller, smallest
dark, darker, darkest.

2. Two-syllable words that end in -y, -le, and -er form the comparative by adding -er and -est:
pretty, prettier, prettiest
happy, happier, happiest
noble, nobler, noblest
clever, cleverer, cleverest

3. Words of more than two syllables form the comparative with more and most:
beautiful, more beautiful, most beautiful.
resonant, more resonant, most resonant

4. Past participles used as adjectives form the comparative with more and most:
crooked, broken, damaged, defeated, etc.

5. Predicate adjectives (adjectives used to describe the subject of a sentence) form the comparative with more and most:
afraid, mute, certain, alone, silent, etc.
Ex. She is afraid. He is more afraid. They are the most afraid of them all.

So far, so good, but when it comes to two-syllable words other than the ones covered by Rule 2, the writer must consider custom and ease of pronunciation.

Usually, two syllable words that have the accent on the first syllable form the comparative by adding –er and –est.
Ex. common, cruel, pleasant, quiet.
BUT tasteless, more tasteless, most tasteless.

Some two-syllable words that have the accent on the second syllable form the comparative by adding –er and –est: polite, profound,
BUT: bizarre, more bizarre, most bizarre.

The rules given above should prevent abominations like “more pretty” or “beautifuler.” When in doubt, look up the preferred inflected forms in the dictionary.

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82 Responses to “Comparative Forms of Adjectives”

  • Aziz Yaghoobi

    What about modern, certain, inept, apt, real, right, wrong (one-syllable), unpleasant, untidy (three-syllable), common, cruel, pleasant, polite, profound, quiet, severe, sincere, stupid, subtle, sure, handsome, lonesome, wholesome, kindly used both as an adjective and adverb,

  • D.A.W.

    The writer has made a big mistake in writing: “One syllable words form the comparative by adding -er and -est.”

    The sentence should say “One-syllable words form their comparatives and superlatives by adding -er and -est.”

    I have found in other articles that Maeve often writes the word “comparative” when she means “superlative”. I guess that this is just the British in her. There was also a problem concerning singular and plural in what she wrote. If the sentence starts off plural, it should remain plural all the way through for grammatical consistency.
    I have noticed that some writers switch back and forth between singular and plural several times in the same sentence.
    D.A.W.

  • D.A.W.

    The word “fun” is a noun and not an adjective or adverb – except in extremely informal speech.

    Nouns do not have comparatives and superlatives.

    Part of the problem lies in people’s confusing predicate nominatives with predicate adjectives. When we say “That was fun,” the word is a predicate nominative and not and adjective.
    D.A.W.

  • Dale A. Wood

    @scurvybro:
    Your problem with speakers and writers using “more” and “most” with one-syllable adjectives and adverbs is this:

    The people who do so are ALL incorrect and lazy-minded.
    The rule to use {r, er, ier, st, est, iest} with all one-syllable adjectives and adverbs is completely true. Therefore, do not get confused and then imitate anyone who does it incorrectly, not even public figures. I have even heard President Obama say it incorrectly, and the President is normally an excellent public speaker.

    Do not use any of these phrases that I have heard in the public media becauss they are all incorrect { more bold, more free, more grave } and the corresponding superlatives.
    Always use these {bolder, boldest, freer, freest, graver, gravest}.

    Also, someone in this very column today stated that {more crooked, most crooked} were required. Quite untrue.
    “That is the crookedest statement that I have ever heard.”
    “Who was the crookedest? James Buchanon, Richard Nixon, or George W. Bush?”
    If the choices are limited to just two, then use “crookeder”.
    “Are you crookeder than Al Capone?”
    “Which governor was the crookedest? James Ryan or Blagojevich? They were both sentenced to Federal prison.”

    I think that sometimes the authors of these columns are unaware of how people – respected people – speak and write in the Southern and Western states. This is a shame. This column is supposed to cover all of the United States and English-speaking Canada.
    D.A.W.

  • Dale A. Wood

    @Jenny: does “last” has a comparative and a superlative form.
    No, it does not. “Last” is an absolute adjective, and something is either last or not last. The same applies to “first”, and something is either first or not first.

    In this very series of columns, it has been pointed out recently that the use of such “words” as {firstly, secondly, … lastly} is grossly incorrect, and if you ever read about someone using them, do not imitate them.
    The words {first, second, third,… last} are both adjectives and adverbs, and it is incorrect to do anything to them to decline them.
    Here are two example sentences:
    Adjective: Neil Armstrong was the first man to set foot on the Moon.
    Adjective: I drove my car first to the drugstore, and second to the grocery store, and last back home again.

    Furthermore, the expression “first-ever” is a ghastly redundancy because “first” means “absolutely the first”, and there is no need to modify it, emphasize it, or add anything to it.

    Armstrong was the first man to step onto the Moon, and “first-ever” is a ghastly way to say it. Speakers who say this should be mortified.

    One might as well say, “That was the first, first, first railroad across the United States.” Heap some redundancy into it!

    D.A.W.

  • Dale A. Wood

    @just a teacher:
    No, you need to say: ”Students can travel longer distances by bus than they can on foot.”
    The part with the car did not make sense.
    Also, “may” is a verb in the subjunctive mood, but that sentence is not subjunctive at all. You need to put it into the indicative mood with the verb “can” or “are able to”.
    D.A.W.

  • Dale A. Wood

    @Federico:
    “This horse is the fattest in all of Belgium” actually says
    “This horse is the fattest one in all of Belgium.”
    You just have to watch out for the missing words.
    I chose Belgium because that is a country that has a history of breeding VERY large farm horses.
    The world’s largest horse of all time was actually a Belgian one that weighed over 6000 pounds, and SHE was a female of a large breed who was carring a large foal in her belly. She was about to give birth.
    To get that number in kilograms, just divide by 2.2.
    D.A.W.

  • Dale A. Wood

    @Federico: What you are actually experiencing is an “ellipsis” – the omission of an unneeded word or two.

    “This book is the thickest in the library,” actually says “This book is the thickest one in the library.”

    Therefore, what you actually have in this case is a “predicate nominative” – which is “thickest one” – and not a predicate adjective.
    The verb “is” functions as an equal sign, so the sentence tells us:
    “This book” = “thickest one in the library”.

    So, when you insert the missing word, everything becomes crystal clear in this sentence. That sentence can also be turned around:

    “The thickest book in the library is this one,” OR
    “The thickest book in the library is this book.”

  • Dale A. Wood

    “Foul” can also be used in four different parts of speech.
    As a noun or a verb, “foul” is used in the vocabulary of sports such as American and Canadian football, baseball and softball, basketball, boxing, and ice hockey. You could probably find more.
    As an adjective or an adverb, here are two examples:
    1. “I recognized your foul stench when I was brought aboard. (Princess Leia, STAR WARS, Episode IV: A New Hope.)
    2. It smells the foulest in this dungeon that I have ever experienced. (adverb).

  • Dale A. Wood

    @Jonah: Here are the uses of “fast” in four different parts of speech:

    1. noun: Michelle plans to start a fast on Monday.
    2. verb: Michael was fasting to atone for her sins of smoking hashish and cocaine .
    3. adjective: A Ferrari is a fast sports car that is made in Italy.
    4a. adverb: George likes to drive fast on the autobahn whenever he is in Germany.
    4b. adverb: Tie the boat up fast to the pier so that the wind will not blow it away.

  • Dale A. Wood

    @Jonah: Here is what you need to understand about your examples:

    1. He runs the fastest in Kawagoe.
    or He runs fastest in Kawagoe.

    2. My brother gets up the earliest in his family.
    or My brother gets up earliest in his family.

    The constructions with “the fastest” and “the earliest” are strictly idiomatic in English – and they are adverbs, not adjectives. In other words, they do not follow any particular rule, and it is a serious mistake to try to teach or explain them according to some rule. They are just the way that they are, and most idioms in English date back for centuries, but they continue to exist and to be used. Most other languages have idiomatic contructions, including German, French, Japanese, Chinese, and so forth.

    “Fast” is an unusual word in English in that it is used as a noun, verb, adjective, and adverb! This is probably confusing you, too. Some other words are used as either adjectives or adverbs, and “early” is one of them.

    You can find other idiomatic uses of “the” with adverbs in English like these: { the quickest, the latest, the foulest} and more.

  • Federico

    Why is “someone” faster (comparative adjective) than everyone?
    in contrast with: this book is the thickest (superlative adjective) in the library. Both “everyone” and “library” make reference to a group (plural) of persons and books.

  • justateacher

    Is “”Students may travel longer distances by bus” a comparative sentence? If so, it is implicit but when it comes to teaching students , I think, we need to be so precise and concise. So we have to put it down this way”Students may travel longer distances by bus than by car” . This may be better .

    Any comments please?

  • Fany

    Thanks for writing these information about adjectives. The teachers in high school need an easy explanation to teach students in class.

  • Jonah

    Hi everyone,
    I’m just new here, and I found your comments useful and helpful as well and i just want to ask grammatically speaking, is it correct to write
    1. He runs the fastest in Kawagoe (City).
    or He runs fastest in Kawagoe.

    2. My brother gets up the earliest in his family.
    or My brother gets up earliest in his family.

    We need to teach these on high school students so I wanted to clear with the explanation.

    Thanks for your help

  • Maeve

    Greg,
    Thank you for pointing out what I should have:

    [Two-syllable adjectives] form the comparative with “-r” if they end in “consonant-l-e.”

    [Two-syllable adjectives] form the comparative with “more” if they end in “vowel-l-e.”

  • Greg

    I think you’ve stated the rule incorrectly for two syllable adjectives ending in -le

    They form the comparative with “-r” if they end in “consonant-l-e.”

    They form the comparative with “more” if they end in “vowel-l-e.” I don’t believe that hostiler, pueriler, mobiler, fragiler, etc are legitimate forms, although they are sometimes seen and heard.

  • Anthony

    Yasmine can you teach Arabic Grammar about common adjectives & Comparative forms?

  • Jenny

    I’d like 2 know if “last” has a comparative and superlative form. If so, what are they?
    Please, I’d love a quick answer.
    This is driving me crazy.
    Thanks before hand.

  • Cristina

    Dear experts,

    How would I go about explaining “right” as per the rules it should be righter and rightest, however this is incorrect. It is more right (than wrong), for example and the superlative of right would be… The most right answer? Doesn’t sound completely correct to me. If someone would be kind enough as to explain this point. Another question where would I be able to obtain a list of exceptions to these comparative and superlative rules and a comprehensible explanation.

    Thanks in advance.
    Cris

  • Ron

    @ Marilene:

    Thanks for this novel word “comaparison”.
    I would normally have some doubts as it is unfamiliar to me and I can also not find it any dictionary, but since you have been teaching English for a long time, I regard your contribution as valid and correct.
    I did spend a few days in coma myself not too many moons ago but I can’t recall that fact very much and I am unaware of how other comas normally progress so I could not help in providing any comaparison.
    (Don’t you just hate foreigners, especially if they come from abroad?)
    Goes to show; one can never be too Dutch to learn some crookeder English.

    🙂

    Have a great day

    Ron

  • Tim

    Djuemou Yannick Armel most of the words you listed are participles (present participles and past participles). Normally we use more, less, most, least with participle adjectives.

    It was the most boring class I have ever taken.

    This more is more exciting than that one.

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