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Comparatives and Superlatives

Grammar Tips: Comparatives and Superlatives

On the latest stop in our grammatical safari, we peer into the enclosure where comparative and superlative adjectives and adverbs run free, always trying to outdo one another.

The tallest. (Photo: Unsplash)
The tallest.
(Photo: Unsplash)

These terms are essential to descriptive writing, but they also cause a lot of confusion. So what are comparatives and superlatives? And how should they be used?

What Are Comparatives and Superlatives?

Comparatives and superlatives are used to describe things (nouns) or actions (verbs). Comparative terms are used when comparing two things. This can be done with ‘as’:

That proofreader is twice as handsome as he is clever.

But comparative adverbs and adjectives are usually paired with ‘than’:

Spelling is harder than grammar.

Here, the comparative adverb ‘harder’ is used to compare the difficulty of spelling and grammar.

Superlatives are used when describing one thing as being something to the highest degree:

I AM THE GREATEST GRAMMARIAN OF ALL TIME!

In this case, our immodest grammarian is describing himself with the superlative ‘greatest’. Superlatives are generally used when comparing more than two things (e.g. comparing one grammarian with all other grammarians, not just one other grammarian).

Comparative (-er) and Superlative (-est) Forms

Many comparatives are formed by adding ‘-er’ to an adjective or adverb (e.g. ‘harder’), while many superlatives take an ‘-est’ ending (e.g. ‘greatest’). This applies to most single-syllable adverbs, as well as adjectives no more than two syllables long. For instance:

Adjectives

Comparative

Superlative

Big

Bigger

Biggest

Happy

Happier

Happiest

Narrow

Narrower

Narrowest

Adverbs

Comparative

Superlative

Fast

Faster

Fastest

Late

Later

Latest

Near

Nearer

Nearest

With some of these words, we can also see how the spelling of a term can change when adding a vowel suffix (e.g. doubling the ‘g’ in ‘biggest’ or changing the ‘y’ to an ‘i’ in ‘happiest’).

More and Most

With longer adverbs and adjectives, as well as adjectives ending ‘-ful’, ‘-ous’ or ‘-less’, comparatives and superlatives are usually formed by using ‘more’ or ‘most’ before the word.

The comparative and superlative forms of ‘interesting’, for instance, are ‘more interesting’ and ‘most interesting’, not ‘interestinger’ and ‘interestingest’. Other examples include:

Adjectives

Comparative

Superlative

Painful

More painful

Most painful

Hopeless

More hopeless

Most hopeless

Complicated

More complicated

Most complicated

Adverbs

Comparative

Superlative

Stupidly

More stupidly

Most stupidly

Easily

More easily

Most easily

Amazingly

More amazingly

Most amazingly

There is some variation here, though it depends on context. For example, ‘quicker’ and ‘quickest’ are often used as comparative and superlative forms of the adverb ‘quickly’. But this is technically wrong, so ‘more quickly’ and ‘most quickly’ should be used in formal writing.

Irregular Comparatives and Superlatives

There are also some irregular comparatives and superlatives that play by their own rules. The adjective ‘good’, for example, becomes the comparative ‘better’ and the superlative ‘best’ (not ‘gooder’ and ‘goodest’). Other irregular terms include:

Base Adjective/Adverb

Comparative

Superlative

Good/Well

Better

Best

Bad/Badly

Worse

Worst

Much/Many/Some

More

Most

Little

Less

Least

Far

Further/Farther

Furthest/Farthest

With these terms, you simply have to remember the correct comparatives and superlatives. But if you’re ever unsure, checking online or having your work proofread is advised.

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