Degrees Of Comparison

English adjectives and adverbs commonly distinguish three degrees: the positive (the basic form), the comparative (expressing a higher degree than is present in something else) and the superlative (expressing a maximal degree).

Comparative and superlative adjectives: formation

The comparative is formed with –er or more; the superlative is formed with –est or most. One syllable adjectives like big and fast tend to prefer –er and –est. Larger ones like beautiful and carefully take more and most.

Comparison of Adjectives and Adverbs

To say that people or things are unequal in a particular way, we can use comparative adjectives and adverbs.

Formation of the comparative and superlative

An adjective can exist in three forms – positive, comparative and superlative.

The positive

This is the basic form of the adjective. Examples are: kind, nice, beautiful, pleasant, tall, short, cruel, brave etc.

The comparative

One-syllable adjectives normally form their comparative by adding –er to the positive. Note that a syllable is a vowel-sound. One-syllable adjectives have just one vowel-sound. They might have more than one vowel, but when they are pronounced, only one vowel-sound is heard. Examples are given below: tall, short, cute, nice, brave, small, dark, fair etc.

We can change these one-syllable adjectives into the comparative by adding –er to them.

Tall –> taller

Short –> shorter

Cute –> cuter

Nice –> nicer

Brave –> braver

Small –> smaller

Dark –> darker

Fair –> fairer

Longer adjectives and adverbs form their comparative forms by adding more to the positive.

Beautiful –> more beautiful

Careful –> more careful

Pleasant –> more pleasant

Intelligent –> more intelligent

Practical –> more practical

The superlative

The superlative adjective shows a maximal degree of some quality. One syllable- adjectives form their superlative forms by adding –est to the positive.

Tall –> taller –> tallest

Short –> shorter –> shortest

Cute –> cuter –> cutest

Nice –> nicer –> nicest

Brave –> braver –> bravest

Small –> smaller –> smallest

Dark –> darker –> darkest

Fair –> fairer –> fairest

Longer adjectives form their superlative forms by adding most to the positive.

Beautiful –> more beautiful –> most beautiful

Careful –> more careful –> most careful

Pleasant –> more pleasant –> most pleasant

Intelligent –> more intelligent –> most intelligent

Practical –> more practical –> most practical

Irregular comparison

Some adjectives and adverbs have irregular comparative and superlative forms. That means their comparative and superlative forms are not formed from their positive.

Examples are given below.

Positive –> comparative –> superlative

Good –> better –> best

Bad –> worse –> worst

Ill –> worse –> worst

Little –> less –> least

Much / many –> more –> most

The superlative adjective is used to say that one of a group is outstanding in a particular way.

Difference Between Comparative And Superlative

We use the comparative to compare one person, thing, action, event or group with another person, thing etc. We use the superlative to compare somebody/something with the whole group that she/he/it belongs to.

When a group only has two members, we sometimes use the comparative instead of the superlative.

Some people feel that a superlative is incorrect in this case.

Comparative vs. Superlative

The comparative (e.g. taller, sharper, stronger, heavier, shorter etc.) is used to compare one person or thing with another person or thing.

  • John is taller than Peter.
  • Alice is cleverer than Mary.

The superlative (e.g. tallest, sharpest, strongest, heaviest, shortest etc.) is used to compare somebody or something with the whole group to which she/he/it belongs.

  • John is the tallest boy in the class.
  • Alice is the prettiest of the four girls.
  • He is the best player in the team.

When a group has only two members, we prefer the comparative to the superlative.

  • Incorrect: Take the shortest of the two routes.
  • Correct: Take the shorter of the two routes.
  • Incorrect: She is the prettiest of the two sisters.
  • Correct: She is the prettier of the two sisters.

A Common Error In The Use Of Comparatives

In comparative sentences be careful to compare the same part of two things. That of, these of and those of are necessary words that are often omitted.

  • Incorrect: His teaching was like Jesus Christ.
  • Correct: His teaching was like that of Jesus Christ.
  • Incorrect: The size of the shoe must be the same as this shoe.
  • Correct: The size of the shoe must be the same as that of this shoe.
  • Incorrect: My painting is better than my friend.
  • Correct: My painting is better than that of my friend. OR My painting is better than my friend’s.
  • Incorrect: Her house is bigger than her friend.
  • Correct: Her house is bigger than that of her friend. OR Her house is bigger than her friend’s house.