Degrees of Comparison

Common Errors with Degrees of Comparison

To avoid errors while using adjectives to make comparisons, you must first establish a knowledgeable and sound background in degrees of comparison especially as the larger portion of errors in adjectivesOpens in new window tend to occur in the use of comparatives.

Adjectives have three degrees of comparison: positive, comparative and superlative degrees:

  1. The positive form is used when there is no direct comparison being made to anything specific, but is used to offer a broad or general comparison.
  2. The comparative form is used when two things are being compared with each other.
  3. The superlative form is used when more than two things are being compared with one another.

The chart below shows you the three degrees of comparison being used in principle:

Positive DegreeComparative DegreeSuperlative Degree
The positive degree is used when no comparison is made at all. The comparative degree is used when two persons or things are compared (not more than two). The superlative degree of comparison is used when more than two persons or things are compared.
Examples.
John's car is fast John's car is faster than Kyle's Of the three boys, Walker's car is the fastest

Now the common errors that contravene the correct use of degrees of comparisons follows:

1.  Use of Double comparatives and superlative — At times a sentence might contain a double comparative or superlative. For example, the sentence below:

  • Virtue is more dearer to me than wealth.
  • This form of comparison is wrong because dearer is already a comparative. We can’t use more with a word that is already comparative. To correct this sentence, we have to omit more from it. So, the correct sentence is:

  • Virtue is dearer to me than wealth.

2.  Using two adjectives for same person/thing — When we use two adjectives to refer to the same entity (person/thing) they must be in the same degree. Consider the example below:

  • Gretchen is the smartest and intelligent staff of this company.
  • In this sentence, two different degrees of adjectives, smartest and intelligent, have been used for Gretchen. While the first one is in the superlative degree, the second is in the positive degree. So, the correct sentence is:

  • Gretchen is the smartest and most intelligent staff of this company.

3.  Wrong order of adjectives — When there are two comparatives or superlatives in a sentence, the one having more/most must come after the one having –er or –est. However, the trickiness of this rule often subjects non-native speakers to be susceptible to contravene this rule, as in the sentence below:

  • Kyle is more handsome and taller than James.
  • Although, in this sentence, both adjectives are in the same degree, they do not fulfill the condition of the correct order of adjectives, which says that when two comparatives or superlatives are used, the one with either of the words more or most must follow the other having –er/–est, as we made known earlier. So, the correct order of adjectives in the sentence is:

  • Kyle is taller and more handsome than James.

4.  Superlative degree. — Superlative degree must always be preceded by a definite article. See example below:

  • Michael Jackson was the best pop artist.
Important Hint! 

Note that if any possessive pronoun (my, our, your, her) or possessive case (noun+’s) precedes the superlative degree, then the cannot be used. See examples of such construction below:

  • It is my best genre of music.
  • Undercut is Walker’s best haircut style.

5.  Using comparative degree in place of superlative degree. — Although in standard practice, we use superlative degree while comparing more than two persons or things, comparative degree can also be used in such context, but we must ensure to put other after any, as in the immediate sentence below:

  • Kyle is taller than any other boy in the class. (Not “taller than any boy in the class”)
  • But the sentence below is wrong:
  • Aristotle is the greatest of all other Greek philosophers.
  • While any can be followed by other in a sentence if the comparative is used in place of the superlative degree, other is not used after the superlative degree. So, the correct sentence is:

  • Aristotle is the greatest of all Greek philosophers.

6.  Comparing a person/thing with himself/itself — You must ensure to use two adjectives in one sentence in the same degree and also be cautious with order, that is, the degree containing more or most must come after the one with either –er or –est. Meanwhile, remember that all these rules are applied when one person/thing is compared with some other person/thing. But when two or more qualities are compared for the same person/thing, instead of –er, we use more. For example:

  • Gretchen is more smart than eloquent. (Not “smarter”)

7.  Using words that are already comparative — We have words in English that are already comparatives. For such words, which include: junior, senior, prior, superior, anterior, inferior, posterior, preferable and rather, we don’t use more or much with them. Also remember that all these words typically take to, not than. Consider the examples below:

  • Virtue is preferable to me than wealth.
    (In this sentence, to say, Virtue is more preferable to me than wealth, will be wrong.)
  • Core i5 is superior to Core i3.
    (In this comparison, to say, Core i5 is superior than Core i3 will be wrong.)

Here are some more word which ought to be remembered; these words are typically followed by to, not than. These words include: likely, sure, certain, etc. See this example:

It is likely to rain.

8.  Words not meant to be compared. — Consider the sentence below:

  • He is the most perfect barber in town.

Wait a minute! Isn’t perfect perfect? Perfect means perfect. There is nothing more or less perfect in this world. Likewise when a thing is complete, it can’t be more or less complete.

So, there are some words in English which are not meant to be used in comparatives as they already have the sense of a comparative with them; hence, we cannot use the words more or most with them. Some of such words include: essential, unique, empty, ideal, important, excellent, supreme, complete, chief, extreme, universal, eternal, entire, unanimous, infinite, impossible, etc. And one more thing! the correct form of the sentence above is:

  • He is the perfect barber in town.

9.  Unequal comparison. — Consider the setence below:

  • The meat of goat is sweeter than cow.

The comparison in this sentence is wrong, as the meat of goat is not compared with the meat of cow, but with cow, which is wrong comparison. In such contexts, where the noun is implied (not stated), than that of is used for singular nouns and than those of is used for plural nouns. So, the correction for the comparison above is:

  • The meat of goat is sweeter than that of cow.

10.  Using as/than and comparative degree — Consider the sentence below:

  • Gretchen can rap as fast, if not faster, than Kyle

If, in a sentence both words as and than are used for comparison, you must use one more as after the adjective following the first one. So, the correct version of comparison in the sentence above is:

  • Gretchen can rap as fast as, if not faster than Kyle.

11.  Parallel and gradual increase/decrease. — Some sentences carry a mechanism of parallel increase, that is, when a quality increases/decreases in one part of the sentence, it increases/decreases in the same ratio in the other part of the sentence. The constructive structure for such sentences is: The + comparative…the + comparative. As in the example below:

  • The higher you go, the cooler it becomes.
  • The comparative can also be used for sentences of gradual increase, that is, when a characteristic get more pronounced gradually.
    For example:
  • She is getting cleverer and cleverer.
  • Your girl is becoming more intelligent and more intelligent.

12.  Sentences with the constructive structure: One of + superlative + if not + superlative. — A number of sentences might carry the construction one of + the + superlative followed by if not + the + superlative. When constructing such sentences, the noun used with the adjective following the former construction should be in plural form and the noun following the latter should be in singular form. Consider these examples:

  • Felix is one of the bravest fighters, if not the bravest (fighter).
  • He is one of the most skillful footballers, if not the most skillful (footballer).

13.  Using wrong comparatives — Consider this sentence:

  • Which is easier— Greek, Spanish or German?

This form of comparison is a misnomer. —Infact, it is a very common error that seems absolutely correct. When comparing more than two entities (persons/things), we must avoid the comparative degree and use the superlative degree instead. So, the correct version of this sentence is:

  • Which is the easiest— Greek, Spanish or German?
Whew! We've come to the conclusion of this study! Thanks for being a good learner.