Have you tried to compare things only to get confused as to whether you should put more in front of the adjective or add "er" to the end of it? If so, you aren't alone. A lot of people have difficulty deciding on the proper way to use the comparative and superlative forms of adjectives. In fact, it's such a common problem, it's a frequent source of frustration for editors and English teachers alike. That's why I'm covering them in this week's Back to Basics post.
What are comparatives and superlative adjectives?
Both comparative and superlative forms of adjectives are used to compare and contrast different things. Better, worst, larger, smallest, fastest, least expensive, and most important are all examples of comparative or superlative adjectives.
So what's the difference between comparatives and superlatives?
Comparatives do just what it sounds like they'd do. They compare one thing to another.
His house is larger than my house.
Anna runs faster than Mary.
A snail moves slower than an ant.
Eggs are less expensive than beef.
Superlatives show the lowest or highest limit of a thing.
A cheetah is the fastest sprinter in the animal kingdom.
They have the highest grades in our class.
They're the shortest person in their family.
Studying for tomorrow's test is the most important thing on my list of stuff to do today.
The comparative form either uses the "er" suffix or puts words like more or less in front of the adjective. Use the comparative form when you are comparing two different things.
The superlative form either uses the "est" ending or puts words like most or least in front of the adjective. Use the superlative form when talking about the top or bottom ranked thing in a group of three or more things.
How do I know when to use the suffix or a modifying adjective?
There are a couple of things to consider when remembering how comparatives and surperlatives forms are spelled or used. First, ask yourself how many syllables are in the root word. Words with one sylable will always use the modified spelling. Words with three or more syllables will always use the modifying adjective. To determine which to use with two syllable words, you need to look at how the root word is spelled.
Let's look at some examples.
Three or More Syllable Words
adorable, more adorable, most adorable
intelligent, more intelligent, most intelligent
dangerous, more dangerous, most dangerous
challenging, more challenging, most challenging
How do I remember which words to give the double consonant?
In a single syllable words, when you only have one vowel followed by a consonant, you need to double the consonant before adding "er" or "est."
How can I tell if I need the suffix or modifying adjective for two syllable words?
For two syllable words that end in "y" or and "e," use the suffix. Just change the "y" to and "i" or drop the "e" before adding the suffix. All other two syllable adjectives will use the modifying adjective.
What about words that don't follow the rules?
As with most any rule in English, there are a few exceptions. Take the words good and bad for instance. You don't say good, gooder, goodest or bad, badder, baddest. Instead you use good, better, best and bad, worse, worst. as is usual with these kids of exceptions, it's usually just best to try and memorize them.
Irregular Comparatives and Surperlatives
good, better, best
bad, worse, worst
much, more, most
little, less, least
far, farther/further, farthest/furthest
Don't forget, you can always use the, "When in doubt, read it out," method. It's not perfect. It's hardly infallable, but gramatical mistakes are often easier to pick out when something is read aloud. Take the third sentence in the paragraph above as an example, and read it out loud. Sounded weird, didn't it?
There you have comparatives and surpurlatives in a nutshell. If you have questions or something you would like to add, please speak out in the comments below. I love hearing from you, and I try to reply as quickly as possible to all comments.
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