Comparison of Adjectives

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If memory serves, I was taught the rules for comparing adjectives in fifth or sixth grade:

1. Adjectives have three degrees of comparison: positive, comparative, and superlative.

2. The comparative is formed with -er or more.

3. The superlative is formed with -est or most.

4. Short words like big and happy take -er and -est: big, bigger, biggest; happy, happier, happiest.

5. Long words, like beautiful and intelligent take more and most: beautiful, more beautiful, most beautiful; intelligent, more intelligent, most intelligent.

This simplified summary applies in most situations. Fine-tuning comes with reading experience.

Yet many speakers seem not to have learned these general rules for comparing adjectives:

He’ll go out of his way to be nice to your friends and family so he can make a good impression on them, even if it’s only because he knows that’ll make you more happy.

I am more strong than I have ever been and my clients are getting better results as well.

It did make my lawn more green. –product review

How to make your company more green

Let’s make the world more greener.

Making cars more greener

How to make your neighborhood more safe

…figuring out how to make low-income communities more safer for women.

These quotations are taken from various blogs. One could say, “Well, these aren’t professional journalists, so why be so critical?”

It seems to me that the general rules for the comparison of adjectives can be mastered by a twelve-year-old. Anyone who has completed eight years of formal education can be expected to have gotten the hang of it. But it is not only the amateur writers who get it wrong. The following is from a writer who has shared two Pulitzer prizes:

[something to do with economics] is a more strong indicator.”

Linguists might argue that dropping of the -er, -est forms is driven by the natural urge of the language towards grammatical simplification.


But “more greener” and “more safer”? I don’t think that has anything to do with evolutionary simplification of the language.

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7 thoughts on “Comparison of Adjectives”

  1. You mention “superlative” now and then, but then you never say anything about it or give any examples.

    LOL – is that the most bestest that you can do ??

    Yes, we really do see items in print of “most greenest”, “most nastiest”, “most stinkiest”, and “most evilest”.

    Was Adolf Hitler the most evilest man who ever lived?
    Maybe in his case, this is the right way to say it.

  2. While doubling up on the superlativs may not be grammatically right, it is emphatic. I recall hearing “main most” … I like’d it so much that I still say … The main most thing ya gotta keep in mind is …

  3. Using “more” with an adjective that already has had “er” added to it is always wrong (“I’m more happier now.”).
    However, I remember learning in early elementary school that with two syllable adjectives, we had a choice: “I’ll be more angry when I lose the money.” or “I’ll be angrier if you don’t show up.”

  4. Linguists might argue that dropping of the -er, -est forms is driven by the natural urge of the language towards grammatical simplification.

    So what if it is? That is no excuse for doing it. There is a natural urge, evidently, to say nucular, supposably, and irregardless. There is a natural urge to do lots of things the wrong way. I don’t know why linguists are called that. Gibberists would seem more fitting, given how they come down on most things. They can’t even get the IPA right, and they invented it.

    You mention “superlative” now and then, but then you never say anything about it or give any examples.

    Yes she does:

    3. The superlative is formed with -est or most.

    Nancy Romness: I have to second your experience. I wasn’t taught much as all about this issue, but I do remember being told that using more or most instead of the –er or –est endings was generally all right. E.g.: there was nothing necessarily wrong with saying, “How to make your company more green” or, “How to make your neighborhood more safe.” Though saying greener or safer might be preferable. Maybe that was just a cop out by educators. Everything is okay if you have a “different dialect”, right? That is how some of them teachers teached.

    AnWulf : I still say …“The main most thing ya gotta keep in mind is …

  5. I also have a problem with the usage of terms like more happy (or happier), more strong (or stronger) and more merry (or merrier). But when it comes to much happier, much stronger and much merrier, I feel that they are right. Is that true?

  6. Umer Baloch: You are right. Much happier or much stronger are fine because those are not absolute concepts. The very fact that you CAN be happiER or strongER implies degrees of the qualities. You can’t qualify superlatives that way, thought. So with happiest or strongest, which are absolutes, you can’t have more or less.

  7. Least flexible
    Less flexible
    more flexible
    most flexible

    least happy
    less happy
    more happy OR happier
    most happy OR happiest

    See. It is happier and happiest that doesn’t fit. More happy and most happy are acceptable in ultra modern English.

    “I am more happy than you think” is Clearer and more right than “‘I am happier than you’ think”

    As for “more greener” and “more safer”??
    Are you sure they are wrong??

    “More greener cars” and “more safer cars” are Sort of right.
    “More greener cars” beats “more cars that are greener”

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