Forming the Comparative of One-syllable Adjectives

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I was only half-listening to an economic analyst being interviewed on NPR, but shot to attention when he said that some economic event was “a more strong indicator” of something or other.

Knowing that being interviewed and talking off the cuff can be stressful for people not used to it, I turned to the web to see if I could find written examples of more being used to compare single-syllable adjectives.

Confining my search to the adjective strong, I found these examples:

• Why para nitro benzoic acid is more stronger acid than meta nitro benzoic acid

• Which would be a more strong magnet?

• Is “certainly” a more strong adverb than “definitely”? “certainly” is more stronger.
• Merge data fields in a more strong way

• Which is a more strong and just relation, friendship or love?

Note: The positive, comparative, and superlative forms of strong are strong, stronger, strongest. I was looking for examples of “more strong.” I never expected to find “more stronger.”

Here are the conventional rules for forming the comparative form of a one-syllable adjective in English.

To compare a one-syllable adjective ending with a consonant, add -er.
small, smaller
sweet, sweeter
long, longer
strong, stronger

If the one-syllable adjective already ends with the letter e, form the comparative by adding -r:
nice, nicer
wise, wiser

If the one-syllable adjective ends with a single consonant preceded by a vowel, double the consonant and add -er:
big, bigger
thin, thinner

Now for the exceptions to the rule.

Sometimes using more instead of -er with a one-syllable adjective is an acceptable stylistic choice:

1. The writer wishes to emphasize the comparison. “He promised to paint the chair pink, but when the paint dried, it was more red than pink.”

2. The one-syllable adjective occurs with an adjective of two or more syllables. “The lecture was more dull and lengthy than the previous one.”

3. It is easier for the speaker to say. “Both views may be right, but mine is more right than yours.” (Other one-syllable words that compare with more are real and wrong.)

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15 thoughts on “Forming the Comparative of One-syllable Adjectives”

  1. Quoting Maeve:
    It is easier for the speaker to say. “Both views may be right, but mine is more right than yours.” (Other one-syllable words that compare with more are real and wrong.)

    I do not agree with this at all, and I disagree for a simple reason.
    The words “right”, “wrong”, and “real” do not have comparatives or superlatives, and to treat them as they do is absurd.

    Something is either right or is it wrong. Other ways of stating this is that something is either right or unright, else right or nonright.
    My dictionary says that “unright” is an archaic word such as one that was used by Chaucer. The word “nonright” might be a neologism of little use. Something is either wrong or nonwrong.
    Something is either real or unreal, else real or nonreal.

  2. An early episode of STAR TREK that was first broadcast in 1966 was named “The Man Trap”. It involved a science-fiction creature called a “shape-shifter”, and I will leave it to you to look that up. In part of that story, the shape-shifter took the image of Dr. Leonard McCoy.

    A well-known S.F. writer named James Blish “wrote up” a lot of the episodes of STAR TREK in the form of short stories. For that episode, he decided to change the title, and I think that Blish’s title was an act of genius. He called the story THE UNREAL MCCOY.
    Holy Cow! Mr. Blish made a play on words of “the real McCoy” and he also expressed that there was something that seemed to be Dr. McCoy, but it was not.
    After Mr. Blish published his first volume of STAR TREK stories, he found that many of his readers objected when he changed anything at all. Thenceforward, Blish stuck as close to the original scripts as he could. I was disappointed at that because I could see the improvements that Blish made. Blish was a skilled and experienced writer of science fiction, but many of the scriptwriters for STAR TREK were not. Gene Roddenberry, Gene Coon, Bob Justman, D.C. Fontana, etc., tried to choose good scripts, but there was always the pressure to produce a new episode every week. That resulted in some weak scripts making their way into production.

  3. Sorry, but I object to this sentence, from the above, very much.
    “The lecture was more dull and lengthy than the previous one.”

    I say, “The lecture was duller and more lengthy the previous one.”
    “The lecture was duller and lengthier than the previous one.”
    This final option has the strength of disposing of the wore “more” altogether.

  4. The comparatives of most two-syllable adjectives are formed in exactly the same way as they are for one-syllable adjectives.
    Let me give some examples:
    abler, bonier, crueler, dustier, eviler, flashier, gentler, greasier, hastier, itchier, joyfuller, leveler, lonlier, nastier, oilier, pastier, rustier, simpler, tastier, uglier, yellower, zanier.
    There are hundreds more.

    Often, a final “y” is changed to “ie”, but that does not change the sound.

  5. Concerning: “It was more red than pink.”
    I do not believe that this is a true comparative, but rather is is one of a whole family of idiomatic phrases of this form.

    For example:
    “When I landed on the beach, I was more seasick than scared.”
    This does not have anything to do with being more seasick, less seasick, or just seasick. It is just an idiomatic phrase.

    “When I touched the snake, I found out that its skin was more sandy than slimey.” This does not have anything to do with being more sandy, less sandy, or just sandy.

    English is loaded with idiomatic phrases because we have gotten them from Anglo-Saxon-Jute, from Old French, from Middle French, from Latin, from Hindi, and elsewhere.

  6. I’m flabbergasted that anyone who frequents this site needs help understanding how to form the comparative and superlative forms of monosyllabic adjectives. That’s fourth- or fifth-grade material. The real problem is not the form, but the content.

    For example, my friends have debated for many, many years about the comparative of “handsome,” i.e., “more handsome” or “handsomer”? They argue incessantly as to whether I’m “more handsome” or “handsomer” than Brad Pitt, Gregory Peck, Johnny Depp, Robert Downey, Jr., Patrick Dempsey, George Clooney, Will Smith, Matthew Fox, Ralph Fiennes, Hank Azaria, John Cusack, and Hugh Jackman, all rolled into one?

    It will probably never be settled to everyone’s satisfaction and I’ll probably go to my grave with that unanswered question hanging over my head.

  7. Quoting: “I’m flabbergasted that anyone who frequents this site needs help understanding….”
    Matt here are your reasons why:
    1. There are people whose native tongue is not English who use this Web site to learn more about the details of our language.
    2. There is a gross outcropping of people in English speaking counties, even broadcasters and other public figures, who cannot get the comparatives and superlatives right.
    President Obama, whose English is excellent otherwise, said “more free” instead of “freer”, and that was shocking.
    A TV announcer said “more grave” instead of “graver”, and that was enough to upset my whole dinner.
    And on, and on, and on….
    Someone needed to say something about it, and Maeve did.

  8. Ouch! Those are some painful examples and it’s actually difficult to look at them. In cases that egregious, I have to wonder not only at the writer’s level of professionalism, but his familiarity with the language period. Is he an ESL speaker? I can’t imagine a native English speaker with even a very low level of education to whom those would read/sound anything but terribly, unnaturally wrong.

  9. The opening lines to the poem ‘Pippa Passes’ are:
    Faster and more fast,
    O’er night’s brim, day boils at last”
    Was Browning being deeply philosophical here? Or is it just a cheap way of making the rhyme? This has bugged me ever since I left school (many years ago).

  10. I thought it was “more fast” as in becoming more entrenched, getting a foothold. But cheap rhyme does it, too. I’ve always been suspicious of poets and abstract painters. How can you ever tell if you’ve been taken?

  11. Quoting: Faster and more fast,
    O’er night’s brim, day boils at last”
    Was Browning being deeply philosophical here? Or is it just a cheap way of making the rhyme?

    Poets also spend a lot of effort in getting the meter** of their sentences correct, and I suppose that this could excuse occasional deviations from the rules of grammar.

    **For example, iambic pentameter, and that’s one of the few that I know of. My appreciation of poetry usually goes to the level of limericks on the subject of science:

    There once was a young lady named Bright,
    Whose speed was far faster then light.
    She set out one day,
    In a relative way,
    And she arrived the previous night.


  12. One of my classmates in graduate school was a young woman (much younger than me) whose name was Ellie Bright.
    I told her the limerick about the lady much faster than light,

    I also saw a lovely blonde closer to my age one evening at a party, and her name was Helen, and I said:
    “Is this the face that launched a thousand ships?”
    and so on.
    It turned out that this fair Helen did not know anything about the Iliad or the Trojan War, and she had never heard of Helen of Troy.

    Well, at least I tried to be friendly and charming…

  13. “There once was a young lady named Bright,
    Whose speed was far more fast than light.”

    You’re right. That doesn’t meter standards at all.

  14. This post has sparked a debate about the comparative & superlative forms of “fun”. Going by the rules here, “fun” should be “funnier” and “funnest”. However, many people use “more fun” and “most fun”, or sometimes cross match them with “more fun” and “funnest”. Which is the correct form?

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