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.

Consider below, how the three degrees of comparison may be used in principle:

The positive degree is used when no comparison is made at all:
  • John's car is fast

The comparative degree is used when two persons or things are compared (not more than two):
  • John's car is faster than Kyle's

The superlative degree of comparison is used when more than two persons or things are compared:
  • Of the three boys, Walker's car is the fastest

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

1.  Use of Double comparatives and superlative

At times a sentence might contain a double comparative or superlative, as shown in 1).

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 example 2).

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 example 3):

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 illustrated 4).

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 illustrated in 5).

Although, in the sentence 5) we've have just seen, 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, example 6) is constructed with the correct order of adjectives:

4.  Superlative degree

Superlative degree must always be preceded by a definite article Opens in new window.

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 in 8) and 9).

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 is the case in 10).

But the construction in 11) is wrong:

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 example 12) illustrates the correct sentence.

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, as shown in 13).

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. See examples 14) and 15).

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 example 16).

8.  Words not meant to be compared

Consider the sentence in 17):

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 in 17) is shown in 18):

9.  Unequal comparison

Consider the setence in 19):

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 construction in 20) is correction for the comparison above.

10.  Using as/than and comparative degree

Consider the sentence below:

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:

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 comparative can also be used for sentences of gradual increase, that is, when a characteristic get more pronounced gradually.For example:

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, as is the case in 25) and 26):

13.  Using wrong comparatives

Consider the sentence in 27)

This form of comparison is a misnomer. —Infact, it is a very common error that seems absolutely correct.

When we are 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 shown in 28):

Whew! We've come to the conclusion of this study! You have done well thou faithful learner.