Degrees of Comparison

Understanding Adjectives Degrees of Comparison

Adjectives, we've learnt, are modifying words that attributes qualities to a noun or an entity that a noun represents.

The adjectivesOpens in new window discussed in the preceding sequence of this study merely attribute qualities to a noun in what we call the positive degree—that is, they only attach the quality to an entity represented by a nounOpens in new window.

Adjectives can also attribute the quality in a way that compares the entity with other entities by indicating that the entity has more of the quality than another entity, or that it has the most of the quality than at least two other entities.

These two other degrees are known as the comparative (more of the quality) and the superlative (most of the quality).

The three degrees of comparison have been distinguished below:

In English, the comparative and superlative degrees of adjectives are formed in two different ways.

The adverbs more and most, are used in front of some adjectives to express varying degrees and some adjectives add the suffixes –er (comparative) and –est (superlative) to express varying degrees of qualities. This is shown in the chart below:

Positive DegreeComparative DegreeSuperlative Degree
fine finishingfiner finishingfinest finishing
incredible storymore incredible storymost incredible story

Guidelines for Forming Correct Comparatives

1.  One–syllable Adjectives

When the adjective is in one syllable, we form the comparative degree by adding –er, and add –est to the positive degree of adjective to form the superlative degree.

Use the examples below to form comparative and superlative degrees for a one–syllable adjectives.

One–syllable Adjectives
Positive DegreeComparative DegreeSuperlative Degree
talltallertallest
shortshortershortest
oldolderoldest
youngyoungeryoungest
Some Examples to ease your understanding:
  • Gretchen is taller than Martha.
    →(This comparison is about the degree of quality (height) between two entities “Gretchen and Martha”)
  • My pencil is shortest of the three pencils on the table.
    →(This comparison is about the degree of quality (lenght) amongst a specific class of entities [usually more than two])
  • Ms. Frudo is older than Ms. Lancaster.
    →(This comparison is about the degree of quality (age) between two persons)
  • Mr. Bennet is the youngest social study teacher we've ever had.
    →(This comparison is about the degree of quality (age) amongst a specific class of entities [usually more than two])

2.  One–syllable adjectives ending with an e

If a one–syllable adjective ends with an e, we simply add –r to form the comparative degree, and add –st to form the superlative degree, as shown below:

One–syllable Adjectives ending with an –e
Positive DegreeComparative DegreeSuperlative Degree
largelargerlargest
wisewiserwisest
Examples include:
  • The rooms in our apartment are larger than those of the Samantha’s.
    → (This comparison is about the degree of quality (spaciousness) between two or more entities.)
  • Of the three friends in the clique, Andy is the wisest.
    →(This comparison is about the degree of quality (wisdom) amongst a specific class of entities [usually more than two])

3.  One–syllable Adjectives ending with a consonant

When a one–syllable adjective ends with a single consonantOpens in new window with a vowelOpens in new window before it, we double the consonant before adding –er, and –est to form the comparative and superlative degrees respectively. These forms are shown below:

One–syllable Adjectives ending with a consonant
Positive DegreeComparative DegreeSuperlative Degree
bigbiggerbiggest
thinthinnerthinnest
fatfatterfattest
Examples include:
  • Rosemary is fattest lady I’ve ever known.
    →(a comparison of the degree of a quality (size) amongst many entities.)
  • Lola is thin, but Susan is thinner.
    → (a comparison of the degree of a quality (body weight/size) between two entities.)
  • Empress Family Loaf is biggest of the jumbo sizes of bread.
    →(a comparison of the degree of a quality (weight) between many entities of a kind.)

4.  Two–syllable Adjectives

When it comes to adjectives with two syllables, the adverbs more and most are placed before the positive adjectives to express varying degrees for the comparative (more) and superlative (most) form of degrees.

Two–syllable Adjectives.
Positive DegreeComparative DegreeSuperlative Degree
peacefulmore peacefulmost peaceful
carefulmore carefulmost careful
thoughtfulmore thoughtfulmost thoughtful
pleasantmore pleasantmost pleasant
cautiousmore cautiousmost cautious
Examples include:
  • Alexander's neighbourhood is more peaceful than ours.
    →(a comparison of the degree of a quality (quietness) between two entities.)
  • Of the four directors at Mulls, Mr. Bennet's attitude is most pleasant.
    →(a comparison of the degree of a quality (attitude) of more than two entities.)
  • In terms of tackling an opponent Mike is more cautious than his team mates.
    →(a comparison of the degree of a quality (aggressiveness) between many entities of a kind.)
  • Ashley is most careful in dating girls from the south than Jackson and Mc'carthy.
    →(a comparison of the degree of a quality (discipline) between two or more entities.)

5.  Two–syllable Adjectives ending with –y

When a two–syllable adjective ends with a –y, we change the y to i, and add –er, and –est to form the comparative and superlative degrees respectively. This is shown below:

Two–syllable Adjectives ending with –y
Positive DegreeComparative DegreeSuperlative Degree
happyhappierhappiest
busybusierbusiest
angryangrierangriest
Examples include:
  • Jane is naturally happier than his brother.
    →(this comparison is about two entities [Jane and his brother])
  • In a similar situation, Jane would be angrier than John was.
    →(this comparison of the degree of anger is about Jane and John in a given situation)
  • Today happens to be the busiest day I've had in two weeks.

6.  Two–syllable adjectives ending in –er, –le, or –ow.

These adjectives forms usually take –er, and –est or –r, and –st to form the comparative and superlative degrees respectively.

Two–syllable adjectives ending in –er, –le, or –ow.
Positive DegreeComparative DegreeSuperlative Degree
narrownarrowernarrowest
gentlegentlergentlest
Examples include:
  • The roads in this county are narrower than the roads in the metropolis.
    →(a comparison of the degree of a quality (breadth) between many entities of a kind.)
  • Adams chances of success is narrowest of all the opponents in the competition.
    →(a comparison of the degree of a quality (propensity of success) between many entities of a kind.)
  • Jackson is gentler than Brian.
    →(This comparison is about two entities [Jackson and Brian])

7.  Adjectives with three or more syllables

A number of adjectives are made up of three or more syllables. For these form of adjectives, we use the adverbs more and most to form the comparative and superlative degrees respectively. This is shown below:

Adjectives with three or more syllables.
Positive DegreeComparative DegreeSuperlative Degree
generousmore generousmost generous
intelligentmore intelligentmost intelligent
importantmore importantmost important
Practical Examples
  • Because I gift people things I think I’m more generous than James.
    →(Here, I'm comparing my degree of generosity with that of James)
  • In all of my teaching experience, quiet pupils are usually the most intelligent.
    →(This comparison is about a specific group of entities (quiet pupils) and other entities of the same kind. )
  • This project I'm working on is the most important project I've handled in my life.
    →(Here, the speaker is comparing the degree of importance of the present project in his hand with those he had handled in the past)

Exceptions to the rules

1.  Irregular Adjectives

A number of adjectives are irregular in the way they form the comparative and superlative degrees. Irregular adjectives are adjectives that do not form the comparative and superlative degrees by adding either –er/–est or more/most.

The following chart shows the different nature that irregular adjectives take to form the comparative and superlative degrees.

Irregular Adjectives
Positive DegreeComparative DegreeSuperlative Degree
goodbetterbest
badworseworst
manymoremost
farfarther/furtherfarthest/furthest
littlelessleast
Examples include:
  • Dogs are better pets than cats.
  • Of all the four friends in the clique, John’s drawings are the best.
  • Andy’s cooking is worse than mine. Mike’s the worst.

2.  Two-syllable adjectives that follow two rules.

A number of adjectives such as ones in the chart below, can take both –er/–est and more/most to form the comparative and superlative degrees respectively.

Two-syllable adjectives that follow two rules.
Positive DegreeComparative DegreeSuperlative Degree
clevercleverermore clevercleverestmost clever
gentlegentlermore gentlegentlestmost gentle
friendlyfriendliermore friendlyfriendliestmost friendly
quietquietermore quietquietestmost quiet
simplesimplermore simplesimplestmost simple
Examples include:
  • Extroverted people are friendlier than introverted people.
  • Extroverted people are more friendly than introverted people.
  • Between extroverted people and introverted people, extroverted people are the friendliest.
  • Between extroverted people and introverted people, extroverted people are the most friendly.
    →(The rests of the adjectives in this category can be used in similar comparisons as these.)

3.  Using as + adjective + as

In circumstances of comparing like people, things, places or activities, especially when there is no difference, we use the structure: as + positive degree of adjective + as. See examples below.

Examples include:
  • Cicero is as iconic as Quintillian.
  • A lion is as dangerous as a tiger.
  • Einstein is as famous as Darwin.
  • Moscow is as cold as St. Petersburg in the winter.
  • George is 22 years old. Gretchen is 22 years old. George is as old as Gretchen.

4.  Using not as + adjective + as

In informal contexts, the structure: not as + positive degree of adjective + as, is often used. See examples below.

Examples include:
  • Gretchen is not as old as George.
  • A sport car is not as fast as cheetah.
  • Seeing movies is not as interesting as reading story books.
  • John is not as smart as Kyle.

5.  Using less + positive degree of adjective + than

The structure: less + positive degree of adjective + than, is often used to express varying degrees.

Examples include:
  • George is less brilliant than Gretchen is.
  • The Samantha's house is less decorative than that of the Bennet's.

    (The first example shows that George possesses a smaller degree of brilliance than Gretchen does. The second example shows that the Samantha's house has a lower decoration than the Bennet's house does.)

5i.  For adjectives which form the comparative with more, either the structure: less + positive degree of adjective + than or the structure: not as + positive degree of adjective + as may be used.

However,the structure not as + positive degree of adjective + as is somewhat less formal than the structure less + positive degree of adjective + than.

Examples include:
  • George is less brilliant than Gretchen is. (Formal)
  • George is not as brilliant as Gretchen is. (Informal)
  • The Samantha's house is less decorative than that of the Bennet's. (Formal)
  • The Samanthat's house is not as decorative as that of the Bennet's (Informal)
    See next pages.
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