Newton's cradle in mid swing

Adverb Degrees of Comparison

Adverbs form three degrees of comparison much like adjectives do. An adverb in its basic form is in the positive degree. Adverbs showing a higher or lower degree of comparison between two alternatives are in the comparative degree. Adverbs used to show the highest or lowest degree among three or more alternatives are in the superlative degree.

Positive Degree

Adverbs in the positive degree are not making a comparison and remain in their simple base form.

Dave studies hard.
Anne is absolutely terrified of spiders.
The students performed admirably on their final exams.

The adverbs in these examples are simply modifying their respective verbs and adjectives. They are not comparing the actions or descriptions in question to those of anyone or anything else.

Comparative Degree

The comparative degree is formed differently for different types of adverbs. For adverbs having only one syllable, the comparative degree is formed by adding “-er” to the end of the adverb. If the adverb already ends with an “e,” then only “r” must be added.

Positive DegreeComparative Degree
hardharder
slowslower
latelater

For adverbs formed by adding “-ly” to the end of an adjective, the word more or less is placed before the adverb. No spelling changes are necessary.

Positive DegreeComparative Degree
nicelymore / less nicely
terriblymore / less terribly
quicklymore / less quickly

Irregular adverbs do not follow either of the previous rules and must simply be memorized.

Positive DegreeComparative Degree
wellbetter
badlyworse
littleless
farfarther / further

Superlative Degree

The superlative degree is formed according to similar rules as the comparative degree. Adverbs having only one syllable are made superlative by adding “-est” or, for those already ending in “e,” simply “-st.”

Positive DegreeComparative DegreeSuperlative Degree
hardharderhardest
slowslowerslowest
latelaterlatest

The word most or least must be used before adverbs formed by adding “-ly” to an adjective.

Positive DegreeComparative DegreeSuperlative Degree
nicelymore / less nicelymost / least nicely
terriblymore / less terriblymost / least terribly
quicklymore / less quicklymost / least quickly

Irregular adverbs, of course, do not follow either set of rules and must be memorized.

Positive DegreeComparative DegreeSuperlative Degree
wellbetterbest
badlyworseworst
littlelessleast
farfarther / furtherfarthest / furthest

Adverbs Having Two Forms

As you might have already noticed, some of the adverbs used above and plenty of others have two correct forms.

Positive DegreeComparative DegreeSuperlative Degree
slow / slowlyslower / more slowlyslowest / most slowly
quick / quicklyquicker / more quicklyquickest / most quickly
loud / loudlylouder / more loudlyloudest / most loudly

Also take note that some adverbs having more than one form take different meanings depending on which form is used.

John arrived late.

As an adverb without the “-ly” ending, late means that John did not arrive on time.

John has not been attending our meetings lately.

The adverb lately, however, means that John has not been attending our meetings recently.

Sean drove around near the abandoned warehouse.

Near indicates that Sean was driving close to the abandoned warehouse.

We are nearly there.

Nearly means that we are almost to our destination.