Degrees of Comparison

Definition

Adjectives describe a quality or characteristic of a noun or pronoun. The basic form of an adjective is sometimes known as the positive degree.
But adjectives can also be inflected (changed in form) to compare a quality between two nouns—this form is known as the comparative degree.
Similarly, we can also inflect an adjective to identify a noun with the highest (or lowest) degree of an attribute among a group—this is known as the superlative degree.

Forming the Comparative and Superlative Degrees

We generally form the comparative degree by adding the suffix “-er” to the end of the adjective, or by using the words more or less before it.
To form the superlative degree, we either add “-est” to the end of the adjective or use the words most or least before it.
In some cases, depending on how the adjective is spelled, we have to change the spelling slightly to accommodate the addition of the suffix; there are some simple rules we can follow to know when such a change is necessary.
(To learn when and how to use these inflected degrees of comparison, go to the sections on Comparative Adjectives and Superlative Adjectives.)

“Short” Adjectives

With one-syllable adjectives, we add “-er” or “-est” and double the final consonant if preceded by one vowel. For example:
Adjective (positive degree)
Comparative degree
Superlative degree
big
bigger
biggest
thin
thinner
thinnest
sad
sadder
saddest
slim
slimmer
slimmest
The final consonant is not doubled if it is preceded by two vowels or another consonant, as in:
Adjective (positive degree)
Comparative degree
Superlative degree
weak
weaker
weakest
strong
stronger
strongest
large*
larger*
largest*
small
smaller
smallest
(*If the adjective ends in an “e,” then you only need to add “-r” or “-st.”)
If an adjective has two syllables and ends in “-y,” we replace “y” with “i” and add “-er” or “-est,” as in:
Adjective (positive degree)
Comparative degree
Superlative degree
happy
happier
happiest
chewy
chewier
chewiest

“Long” Adjectives

“Long” adjectives are adjectives that have three or more syllables, or adjectives that have two syllables and do not end in “-y.” Rather than changing the ending of long adjectives, we use the words more or less before the adjective to make them comparative, or most/least to make them superlative. For example:
Adjective (positive degree)
Comparative degree
Superlative degree
careful
more/less careful
most/least careful
caring
more/less caring
most/least caring
gifted
more/less gifted
most/least gifted
intelligent
more/less intelligent
most/least intelligent
beautiful
more/less beautiful
most/least beautiful
amazing
more/less amazing
most/least amazing

Irregular adjectives

As with most grammatical rules in English, there are some exceptions to the patterns above. Adjectives that do not inflect according to the normal patterns are known as irregular adjectives. For example:
Irregular adjective (positive degree)
Comparative degree
Superlative degree
fun
more/less fun
most/least fun
bad
worse
worst
well (healthy)
better
best
good
better
best
far*
farther/further*
farthest/furthest*
(*Although farther/further and farthest/furthest are often used interchangeably, there are differences between these two forms. In American English, farther/farthest is preferred when comparing physical distances, and further/furthest is preferred when comparing figurative distances; in British English, further/furthest is preferred for both uses.)

Adjectives with multiple forms of inflection

There are also some adjectives that can be inflected using either form we looked at above. The following are some of the most common:
Adjective (positive degree)
Comparative degree
Superlative degree
clever
cleverer or more/less clever
cleverest or most/least clever
likely
likelier or more/less likely
likeliest or most/least likely
narrow
narrower or more/less narrow
narrowest or most/least narrow
quiet
quieter or more/less quiet
quietest or most/least quiet
simple
simpler or more/less simple
simplest or most/least simple
Quiz

1. Which of the following suffixes is used to shift a one-syllable adjective to the superlative degree?





2. Which of the following pairs of words is used to shift a two-syllable “-ly” adjective to the comparative degree?





3. What is the comparative form of the irregular adjective well?





4. What is the superlative form of the adjective likely?







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