Demise of the -er Comparative

By Maeve Maddox

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Perhaps, like me, you were taught in elementary school that most one-syllable adjectives, plus two-syllable adjectives that end in y, form the comparative and superlative by adding –er and –est. Most one-syllable adverbs also form the comparative and superlative with –er and –est.

As with every grammar “rule,” there are exceptions, but mostly, short adjectives and adverbs are compared with –er and –est. For that reason, the following passages from professional sources triggered blackboard moments in me.

A great list, only making it more sad that it contains a few glaring errors.—The Guardian

However, there is no weekend of the year during which I’m more glad to live in east London than this one. The Independent

I could not be more proud of my country, more happy to have been born here.—San Francisco Gate

The most easy way to fix the issue is to restart the web browser in your iPhone.—technical help site.

What, I sighed, is wrong with

sad sadder saddest
glad gladder gladdest
happy happier happiest
proud prouder proudest
easy easier easiest

Something may be at work here that foreshadows an eventual disappearance of the –er, –est forms altogether.

If there’s anything consistent about English, it’s the fact that, as the language evolves, the grammar continues to simplify.

Grammatical gender dropped away ages ago. Most of our irregular verbs are gone. The only noun declension left is the possessive—and that one is dying out in texting. Older pronouns have dropped out and the ones we have are in flux.

It’s quite possible that the comparison of adjectives will simplify to the extent that the –er and est endings will disappear, and more and most will be used with all adjectives and adverbs, regardless of length or convention.

I suppose that, like lay for lie, “more glad” is something I can learn to keep quiet about. Slapping both forms together, however, does seem rather excessive.

At that time Kurdish domination in young population will be evident, and it would be much more harder to change situation.—The Economist

Yes, it is a harsh business and the more harder to comprehend when drivel like the piece you are standard bearer for gets made.—The Guardian

And then there are the irregular adjectives good, better, best and bad, worse, worst.

It didn’t work, the situation of Poles in Lithuania actually became worser.—The Economist

I was born and bred in Wolverhampton and can say truthfully it is a dump and getting worser when compared with other cities.—Express and Star

Anthrax may be the baddest bacteria on the block, but anthrax gets sick, too.—USA Today

More Better Restaurant & Beer Garden—A business name

What can make all much worser is if the population shrinks and every generation is less educated and skilled than the generation before. [Amen to that!—Ed. note]— The Economist

I suspect that the writer who called anthrax “the baddest bacteria on the block” was intentionally using street slang for stylistic effect, and the restaurant owner is thumbing his nose at convention, but the other abominations seem to have been used in earnest.

In the words of the professor in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, “What do they teach them at these schools?”

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5 Responses to “Demise of the -er Comparative”

  • ApK

    Heck, just go full Newspeak and use “plus” and “double plus” in all cases.
    I’m addition, I’m sure there’s a bunch folks out there saying “whatever I want to say is right, because I want it. Why should I follow arbitrary, outdated ‘rules’ and ‘standards’ that were probably created to repress the lower classes?”

  • Maeve

    AprK,
    🙂

  • Tim Slager

    My memory may fail, but I recall being taught long ago that more and most are fine alternatives to the comparative and superlative for forms. The only one of the initial four sentences that strikes me as sounding odd is the last. And “I’m gladder” instead of “I’m more glad” sounds awkward to my old ears in this context. I appreciate the writer’s attention to cadence and sound (if that’s what caused it).
    I suspect the combined forms are a failure of too-quick copy edits. “Oh, that should be ‘harder’!” And then they moved without going back to delete “more.”
    Who knows what is going on with worser?! I expect better of The Economist.

  • ApK

    @Tim, you expected better, and got worser.

    If that was NOT an intentional pun, don’t ever admit it.

  • venqax

    What the ‘ell is going on at The Economist?, the Guardian? That’s just embarrassing. And the Brits are the snobs about English? MAD magazine wouldn’t write much more harder or worser, FGS. In defense of USA Today— for the first time in my life, ever– the baddest part of that sentence is probably appropriate to the context; “bad” there being common slang for tough, frightening. “He’s the baddest bad-ass of all, man.”

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