Adjective Degrees of Comparison

Degrees of comparison are the different inflections of adjectives used to compare the qualities and characteristics of multiple nouns. There are three degrees of comparison, although technically the first degree actually indicates a lack of any comparison. The positive degree of comparison is the basic form of an adjective used for describing one noun. The comparative degree is the form an adjective takes when comparing two nouns. The superlative degree is the form of an adjective used to show the greatest or least display of a characteristic within a group of three or more nouns.

Positive Degree

The positive degree is the basic form of an adjective used for describing a single noun. No modification of the adjective is required to form the positive degree.

Teddy likes the red truck.
Sue wrote a very long research paper.
Mr. Allen is a very nice man.

Comparative Degree

The comparative degree is where things start to get interesting. We generally form the comparative degree of an adjective by adding “-er” to the end of it or by placing “more” or “less” before it. For adjectives having only one syllable and adjectives having two syllables and ending with “y,” we form the comparative degree by adding “-er” according to the appropriate spelling rules:

  1. For one-syllable adjectives with a final consonant preceded by one vowel, we must double the final consonant and add “-er.”
  2. For one-syllable adjectives having two vowels or another consonant before the final consonant, we simply add “-er” without doubling the final consonant.
  3. For one- or two- syllable adjectives that already end in “e,” we simply add “r.”
  4. For two-syllable adjectives ending in “y,” we simply change the “y” to “i” and add “-er.”
Spelling RulePositive DegreeComparative Degree
1bigbigger
2smartsmarter
3strangestranger
4angryangrier

For two-syllable adjectives not ending in “y” and adjectives that are longer than three syllables, we form the comparative degree by placing “more” or “less” before the adjective.

Positive DegreeComparative Degree
gracefulmore/less graceful
interestingmore/less interesting
generousmore/less generous
impressivemore/less impressive

Superlative Degree

The superlative degree is generally formed by adding “-est” to the end of the adjective or by putting “most” or “least” in front of it. We use the same categorizations and spelling rules as we do with the comparative degree. For adjectives having only one syllable and adjectives having two syllables and ending with “y,” we form the comparative degree by adding “-est” according to the appropriate spelling rules:

  1. For one-syllable adjectives with a final consonant preceded by one vowel, we must double the final consonant and add “-est.”
  2. For one-syllable adjectives having two vowels or another consonant before the final consonant, we simply add “-est” without doubling the final consonant.
  3. For one- or two-syllable adjectives that already end in “e,” we simply add “st.”
  4. For two-syllable adjectives ending in “y,” we simply change the “y” to “i” and add “-est.”
Spelling RulePositive DegreeComparative DegreeSuperlative Degree
1bigbiggerbiggest
2smartsmartersmartest
3strangestrangerstrangest
4angryangrierangriest

For two-syllable adjectives not ending in “y” and adjectives that are longer than three syllables, we form the comparative degree by placing “most” or “least” before the adjective.

Positive DegreeComparative DegreeSuperlative Degree
gracefulmore/less gracefulmost/least graceful
interestingmore/less interestingmost/least interesting
generousmore/less generousmost/least generous
impressivemore/less impressivemost/least impressive

Irregular Adjectives

As frustrating as it may be, there are always some words that just don’t follow the rules. Some adjectives that would seem to fit neatly into one of the categories above are inflected differently than we might expect. Some common irregular adjectives include:

Positive DegreeComparative DegreeSuperlative Degree
good/wellbetterbest
bad/illworseworst
funmore/less funmost/least fun
littlelessleast
manymoremost

Adjectives With Two Forms of Inflection

Besides some adjectives that just don’t follow the rules, there are also some adjectives that can follow the rules of either category. However, certain forms are often preferred over others in most contexts, and the validity and correctness of some forms are debated.

Positive DegreeComparative DegreeSuperlative Degree
clevercleverer/more clevercleverest/ most clever
commoncommoner/more commoncommonest/most common
gentlegentler/more gentlegentlest/most gentle
hollowhollower/more hollowhollowest/most hollow
humblehumbler/more humblehumblest/most humble
likelylikelier/more likelylikeliest/most likely
narrownarrower/more narrownarrowest/most narrow
politepoliter/more politepolitest/most polite
quietquieter/more quietquietest/most quiet
simplesimpler/more simplesimplest/most simple
stupidstupider/more stupidstupidest/most stupid

Adjectives Without Logical Inflections

There are certain adjectives that cannot be logically compared, although we often compare them anyway. For example, something must either be perfect or not. If something is perfect, it cannot be more or less perfect. If it is anything less than perfect, then it simply cannot be described as perfect. The same goes with “unique.” If something is unique, it is the only one of its kind. As it is the only one of its kind, it cannot be more or less unique than something else.

We run into similar problems with shapes and measurements. Technically speaking, something is either square, or it is not. A square must meet precise specifications. If its sides are not congruent or its angles are not all 90 degrees, then it is not square. “straight” works the same way. If something is anything less than straight, however slightly, then it is crooked.

Despite the logical dilemmas we unwittingly create, we often use contradictory comparisons like these in everyday speech without anyone noticing. However, illogical comparisons are best avoided in professional and academic writing.

%d bloggers like this: