Degrees of Comparison
Read the following sentences.
John is a good singer.
Peter is a good singer.
Tom is a good singer.
All three of them are good singers. But do they sing equally well? Probably not. How do we compare John’s skills with those of Peter and Tom? Here is where the Degree of Comparison comes to the rescue.
Now read the following sentences.
John is a good singer. (Maybe he gets 5 out of 10 marks.)
Peter is a better singer. (Maybe he gets 7 out of 10 marks.)
Tom is the best singer. (Maybe he gets 9 out of 10 marks.)
You will have noticed that adjectives change in form to show the degree of comparison.
Here good is the form of the adjective in the positive degree. Better is the form of the adjective in the comparative degree and best is the form of the adjective in the superlative degree.
Formation of the Comparative and the Superlative
Most adjectives of one syllable and some of two form the comparative by adding –er and the superlative by adding –est to the positive.
Tall; taller; tallest
Big; bigger; biggest
Smart; smarter; smartest
High; higher; highest
Rich; richer; richest
When the positive adjective ends in –e, only –r and –st are added.
Large; larger; largest
Brave; braver; bravest
Fine; finer; finest
Wise; wiser; wisest
When the positive adjective ends in –y and is preceded by a consonant, -y is changed into –i before adding –er and –est.
Heavy; heavier; heaviest
Easy; easier; easiest
Happy; happier; happiest
Most adjectives of two or more syllables form the comparative by adding more before the positive and form the superlative by adding most before the positive.
Difficult; more difficult; most difficult
Careful; more careful; most careful
Beautiful; more beautiful; most beautiful
Intelligent; more intelligent; most intelligent
Some adjectives form their comparative and superlative irregularly.
Good; better; best
Bad; worse; worst
Ill; worse; worst
Late; later; latest
Much; more; most
Little; less; least
Comparative forms ending in -or
Among the several words English has borrowed from Latin, there are 12 comparative adjectives ending in –or. They are: interior, exterior, ulterior, major, minor, inferior, superior, junior, senior, anterior, posterior and prior.
Five of these words – interior, exterior, ulterior, major, minor – have lost their comparative meaning. They are now used as positive adjectives.
He had a major accident.
He sustained minor injuries.
I suspect he has some ulterior motive behind this.
Note that we do not use than or to after these adjectives because they have lost their comparative meaning.
The remaining seven adjectives – inferior, superior, junior, senior, anterior, posterior and prior – have retained their comparative meaning. Note that they are followed by to instead of than.
My job is superior to yours.
He is junior to me in service.
She is senior to me by six years.