Grammar Tips for Comparison
We (Edith Hope Fine and Judith Josephson) are the Grammar Patrol. Both of us taught for years and are now writers, with thirty plus books between us, including our two popular grammar guides, Nitty-Gritty Grammar and More Nitty-Gritty Grammar. For close to twenty years, we taught writing and grammar basics and now we blog about grammar for writers.
Life and literature are full of comparisons. Shakespeare’s sonnet posed the question, “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate . . . ”
In the movie Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the evil queen asks her looking glass, “Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who’s the fairest of us all?” Sorry, Evil Queen—Snow White’s the fairest in the land. She’s superlative.
When using adjectives and some adverbs to compare, common bloopers can occur: more better, most fastest.
Let’s review. Comparisons have three degrees:
• positive (the basic form of the word)
• comparative (two things)
• superlative (more than two).
Positive Comparative Superlative
frizzy frizzier frizziest
warm warmer warmest
beautiful more beautiful most beautiful
Comparatives and superlatives often cause mistakes.
If you’re comparing two things, one to the other:
—Add an er ending or “more” or “less” to most one-syllable words:
younger, more/less young
wilder, more/less wild
denser, more/less dense
Of stock car racing and archery, archery seems safer (or more safe).
—With two-syllable words ending in y, drop the y and add er, or use “more” or “less” before the word:
(silly) sillier, more/less silly
(gaudy) gaudier, more/less gaudy
(zany) zanier, more/less zany
(muddy) muddier, more/less muddy
—With words of three or more syllables, use “more” or “less” before the word:
less bountiful more athletic more intelligent
* Tip: You can also modify the comparative form with the adverb “much.”
Jackson Pollack’s paintings were much sloppier than those by Salvador Dalí.
To compare more than two things:
—Add the ending est to most one-syllable and some two-syllable words.
fastest shiniest messiest lightest silliest
—Add “most” or “least” to some two-syllable and most three-syllable words:
most savvy most skillful least dangerous least sour least athletic
San Francisco is the least affordable city in California.
The late Tony Gwynn was the San Diego Padres’ most popular player.
Keeping Comparatives and Superlatives Straight
Comparing two things? Use er.
Comparing three things? Use est.
Camilla is the younger of the two sisters. (not “youngest”)
The 1915 Rio is the oldest of our six antique cars. (not “older”)
Just as chameleons change color, irregular comparatives change forms.
Positive Comparative Superlative
good better best
bad worse worst
Comparative: Use er or “more,” not both:
Gambling is either “riskier” or “more risky” never “more riskier” than Bingo.
Superlative: Use est or “most,” not both:
A gazelle is either the “most swift” or the “swiftest” of animals, never “the most swiftest.”
You can’t add er or est to some adjectives, like “fun” or “false.”
Don’t say, My red glasses are “funner.” She had “falser” eyelashes than I did.
That’s the scoop from the Grammar Patrol. You’ll find more on comparatives and superlatives in our zany Nitty-Gritty Grammar and More Nitty-Gritty Grammar guides. Let us know when you hear bloopers of any kind, especially ones with comparisons. We love hearing from you.
Have a better-than-average day and a most delightful summer!