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adjective comparison

An adjective is a word that modifies a noun or a pronoun. In English grammar, adjectives fall into the category called modifiers. (A modifier is a word that either describes or limits the meaning of the word it refers to.)

Adjective forms

Adjectives have three forms: positive, comparative and superlative.

The positive form is the adjective itself:

  • Louise is tall.
  • Eric is careful.

The comparative is used to compare two persons or things:

  • Louise is taller than Jean-Marc.
  • Eric is more careful than Jordan.

The superlative is used to compare three or more persons or things:

  • Louise is the tallest person in her family.
  • Eric is the most careful driver on our block.

Rules for forming the comparative and superlative

We add -er (for the comparative) or -est (for the superlative) to most adjectives that fall into the following groups:

  • adjectives of one syllable
    • fast, faster, fastest
    • kind, kinder, kindest
    • long, longer, longest
  • adjectives of two syllables ending in -le
    • noble, nobler, noblest
    • subtle, subtler, subtlest

    [Note that the silent e at the end of these adjectives is dropped before the ending: nobler, not nobleer.]

  • adjectives of two syllables ending in -ow
    • narrow, narrower, narrowest
    • shallow, shallower, shallowest
  • adjectives of two syllables ending in -y
    • happy, happier, happiest
    • merry, merrier, merriest

To form the comparative or superlative of most other adjectives, we put the words more or most in front of them:

  • comparative: more agreeable, more secure, more reckless
  • superlative: most agreeable, most secure, most reckless

Note: Some two-syllable adjectives can form their comparatives and superlatives using either form: cleverer or more clever, friendliest or most friendly. In addition to clever and friendly, common examples are gentle, lively, narrow, quiet, silly, simple.

Irregular comparative and superlative forms

The following table shows six common adjectives with irregular comparative and superlative forms:

Positive

Comparative

Superlative

bad

worse

worst

far

farther

farthest

good

better

best

little

less

least

much

more

most

many

more

most

Mistakes to avoid in using comparative and superlative adjectives

The following guidelines will help you avoid the most common mistakes.

Don’t combine the two forms for the comparative or superlative. Use either more or -er (or most or -est), but not both:

  • gentler or more gentle [not more gentler]
  • cleverest or most clever [not most cleverest]

Don’t use the superlative when comparing only two persons or things:

  • The larger of the two race cars was damaged. [not the largest]
  • Anita is the livelier twin. [not the liveliest]

Don’t use comparative and superlative forms or intensifiers (very, quite, rather, etc.) with adjectives that express absolute ideas (complete, empty, essential, fatal, full, perfect, unique, etc.). Since absolutes have no degrees of comparison, they should not be intensified or compared.

  • The accident was fatal. [not quite fatal]
  • The Broccoli Bar is the perfect restaurant for vegans. [not the most perfect]