The Farlex Grammar Book > English Grammar > Parts of Speech > Adverbs > Degrees of Comparison > Comparative Adverbs
What is a comparative adverb?
Comparative adverbs, like comparative adjectives, are used to describe differences and similarities between two things. While comparative adjectives describe similarities and differences between two nouns (people, places, or objects), comparative adverbs make comparisons between two verbs—that is, they describe how, when, how often, or to what degree an action is done. For example:
- “John is faster than Tim.” (comparative adjective)
- “John runs faster than Tim.” (comparative adverb)
- “John is more careful than Tim in his work.” (comparative adjective)
- “John works more carefully than Tim.” (comparative adverb)
Comparative adverbs and comparative adjectives sometimes have the same form (as in faster above); other times, they have different forms (as in careful/carefully). However, even when the forms are the same, we can tell the difference between the two by looking at what they modify. While the comparative adjectives describe differences between the physical or personal characteristics of John and Tim, the comparative adverbs describe differences in how they carry out actions (run, work).
Forming Comparative Adverbs
We form comparative adverbs by adding the ending “-er” to the base adverb, or by adding the word more (or less) before the base adverb. There are simple rules that tell us which method is correct.
One syllable + “-er”
In general, when the adverb has only one syllable, we add “-er” to the end of it. The table below shows some of the most common one-syllable adverbs and their comparative forms:
Adverb (base form)
(*Spelling note: When the adverb already ends in the letter “e,” just add “-r,” not “-er.”)
More +“-ly” adverb
Many adverbs are formed by adding “-ly” to the end of an adjective. If an adverb has been created according to this pattern, we insert the word more or less to form the comparative. For example:
Irregular comparative adverbs
Of course, there are some exceptions to the rules we’ve just looked at. These are some of the most common irregular comparative adverbs:
(*Although farther and further are often used interchangeably, there are differences between these two forms. In American English, farther is preferred when comparing physical distances and further when comparing figurative distances; in British English, further is preferred for both.)
To learn more about irregular adverbs, see the chapter section covering Regular and Irregular Adverbs.
Comparative adverbs with two forms
There are a few adverbs that have two generally accepted forms. In these cases, they also have two commonly used comparative forms. Some of the most prevalent of these exceptions are:
Although traditional grammarians often consider these adverb forms without “-ly” to be incorrect, they are commonly used in modern English. However, they are still considered less formal than their “-ly” equivalents.
Using Comparative Adverbs
Now that we have seen how to form comparative adverbs, let’s look at how they are used within the context of affirmative, negative, and interrogative statements.
We can describe change or differences between two things within one sentence, using the word than. For example:
- “An airplane moves faster than a car.”
- “I eat more neatly than my sister.”
- “I work more carefully than I used to.”
Note that while the first two examples describe differences between how two things or people carry out an action, the third example describes a change in how one person has carried out an action. Also, in each of the examples, the person or thing that does the action to a greater degree comes first in the sentence. We can also use the opposite adverbs to achieve the same meaning in a different order:
- “A car moves slower/more slowly than an airplane.”
- “My sister eats more sloppily than me.”
- “I used to work less carefully than I do now.”
It’s easy to form negative statements with comparative adverbs. We just follow the regular patterns for negatives: if the statement contains an auxiliary or modal verb, or if it uses a form of the linking verb be, we insert the word not (either in its full or its contracted form). For example:
- “My brother can run faster than me.” (affirmative)
- “My brother can’t run faster than me.” (negative)
- “Sam is learning to read more quickly than Jen.” (affirmative)
- “Sam is not learning to read more quickly than Jen.” (negative)
If a statement contains only a main verb, we add the auxiliary verb do/does/did and not. For example:
- “Tom sings more beautifully than Sam.” (affirmative)
- “Tom does not sing more beautifully than Sam.” (negative)
- “Cats hide better than dogs.” (affirmative)
- “Cats don’t hide better than dogs.” (negative)
We form interrogatives with comparative adverbs using normal question formation. For example:
- “Did you always run faster than your brother?”
- “Has she ever performed better than you on a test?”
- “Can monkeys jump higher than cats?”
We can also ask questions by placing a question word at the beginning of the sentence, and adding the two people or things at the end. For example:
- “Who runs faster, you or your brother?”
- “Who performs better on tests, you or Jen?”
- “Which animal can jump higher, a cat or a monkey?”
Note that in this type of question, we do not include the word than. We tend to use than with a question word if the second person or thing is unknown, as in:
- “Who runs faster than you?”
- “Who performs better on tests than Jen?”
- “What animal can jump higher than a monkey?”
Omitting one of the nouns
Often, we don’t need to explicitly mention both of the people or things that we’re comparing because it’s already obvious from the context. If the speaker already knows who or what we’re talking about, we can omit one of the nouns. If we do this, we also omit the word than. For example:
- Speaker A: “Who swims faster, you or your brother?”
- Speaker B: “My brother does, but I can run faster.”
Speaker B doesn’t need to say “than my brother” at the end, because it’s already clear from the context.
We can only make comparisons using gradable adverbs, meaning adverbs that are able to move up and down on a scale of intensity. The majority of adverbs are gradable. For example, quickly is gradable because a person can run quickly, very quickly, or extremely quickly.
As with comparative adjectives, we can state differences in scale by using words and phrases like a bit, a little (bit), much, a lot, and far before the comparative adverb. For example:
- “Tom can run much faster than his brother.”
- “Monkeys jump a lot higher than cats.”
- “Sam drives a little (bit) more carefully than Tom.”
Not all adverbs are gradable in nature. For example, absolutely, completely, totally and utterly are all ungradable adverbs. These are used to modify ungradable adjectives, and they cannot move up and down on a scale. They do not have a comparative form, and therefore cannot be used to draw comparisons.
Expressing equality and inequality using as … as
Another way of expressing similarities, differences, or changes with comparative adverbs is by using the structure “as … as.” To describe two things as equal, we use the construction as + adverb + as. For example:
- “I still run as slowly as I used to.”
- “Tom always drives as carefully as you’d want him to.”
- “Sam finished as quickly as his brother.”
We can use the same construction to say that two actions are unequal by adding an auxiliary verb and the word not.
- I don’t run as slowly as I used to.”
- “Tom doesn’t always drive as carefully as you’d want him to.”
- “Sam didn’t finish as quickly as his brother.”
Finally, we can inquire as to whether two actions are equal by adding the auxiliary verbs do/does or did to the beginning of the sentence and forming a question:
- “Do you still run as slowly as you used to?”
- “Does Tom drive as carefully as you’d want him to?”
- “Did Sam finish as quickly as his brother?”