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Comparison of Adjectives

Adjectives change form to show comparison.

Look at the following examples.

Winston is clever.
Winston is cleverer than Harry.
Winston is the cleverest boy in the class.

Clever, cleverer and cleverest are different forms of the same adjective clever. The three forms are called Degrees of Comparison.

The adjective clever is said to be in the Positive Degree.

The adjective cleverer is said to be in the Comparative Degree.

The adjective cleverest is said to be in the Superlative Degree.


The Positive Degree of an adjective is the adjective in its simple form. It is used to denote the mere existence of some quality of what we speak about. It is used when no comparison is made.

Examples:
Maria is short.
Apples are expensive.

The Comparative Degree of an adjective denotes a higher degree of the quality than the Positive, and is used when two things or sets of things are compared.

Examples:
Maria is shorter than Jamie.
Apples are more expensive than oranges.

The Superlative Degree of an adjective denotes the highest degree of the quality, and is used when more than two things or sets of things are compared.

Examples:
Maria is the shortest girl in the class.
Apples are the most expensive fruit in the market.

Note 1 There is another way in which we can compare things. Instead of saying ‘Apples are more expensive than oranges’ we can say ‘Oranges are less expensive than apples’. Instead of saying ‘Apples are the most expensive fruits in the market’ we can say ‘Apples are the least affordable fruits in the market’.

Note 2

The Superlative with most is sometimes used where there is no idea of comparison, but merely a desire to indicate the possession of a quality in a very high degree.

Examples:
This is most unfortunate.
It was a most eloquent speech.
Truly, a most ingenious device!

This usage has been called the Superlative of Eminence or the Absolute Superlative.

Formation of Comparative and Superlative

Most adjectives of one syllable, and some of more than one, form the Comparative by adding er and the Superlative by adding est to the Positive.

Positive

Comparative

Superlative

sweet

sweeter

sweetest

small

smaller

smallest

tall

taller

tallest

bold

bolder

boldest

clever

cleverer

cleverest

kind

kinder

kindest

young

younger

youngest

great

greater

greatest


When the positive ends in e, only r and est are added.

Positive

Comparative

Superlative

brave

braver

bravest

fine

finer

finest

white

whiter

whitest

large

larger

largest

clever

cleverer

cleverest

able

abler

ablest

noble

nobler

noblest

wise

wiser

wisest


When the Positive ends in y, preceded by a consonant, the y is changed into i before adding er and est.

Positive

Comparative

Superlative

happy

happier

happiest

easy

easier

easiest

heavy

heavier

heaviest

merry

merrier

merriest

wealthy

wealthier

wealthiest


When the positive is a word of one syllable and ends in a single consonant, preceded by a short vowel, this consonant is doubled before adding er and est.

Positive

Comparative

Superlative

red

redder

reddest

big

bigger

biggest

hot

hotter

hottest

thin

thinner

thinnest

sad

sadder

saddest

fat

fatter

fattest


Adjectives of more than two syllables, and many of those with two, form the Comparative by using the adverb more with the Positive, and the Superlative by using the adverb most with the Positive.

Positive

Comparative

Superlative

splendid

more splendid

most splendid

beautiful

more beautiful

most beautiful

difficult

more difficult

most difficult

industrious

more industrious

most industrious

courageous

more courageous

most courageous

learned

more learned

most learned

proper

more proper

most proper


The comparison er is not used when we compare two qualities in the same person or thing. If we wish to say that the courage of Harry is greater than his prudence, we must say,

Harry is more brave than prudent.

When two objects are compared with each other, the latter term of comparison must exclude the former. For example,

Iron is more useful than any other metal.

If we say,

Iron is more useful than any metal,

that is the same thing as saying ‘Iron is more useful than iron’ since iron is itself a metal.

Irregular comparison

The following adjectives are compared irregularly, that is, their Comparative and Superlative are not formed from the Positive.

Positive

Comparative

Superlative

good, well

better

best

bad, evil, ill

worse

worst

little

less, lesser

least

much

more

most

many

more

most

late

later, latter

latest, last

old

older, elder

oldest, eldest

far

farther

farthest


Note 3
Later and latest refer to time. Latter and last refer to position.

Examples:
He is later than I expected.
I have not heard the latest news.
The latter chapters are lacking in interest.
The last chapter is carelessly written.
Ours is the last house in the street.

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