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Comparatives and Superlatives

Comparatives simply compare two people, places, or things, and can be either adjectives or adverbs. They are often created by adding –er to an adjective or adverb. Superlatives compare more than two persons, places, or things, and are usually created by adding the ending –est to either adjectives or a few adverbs.

Positives are the root forms of words found in the dictionary. To compare two or more objects, you modify the positive form of a word with either a comparative or a superlative. The positive old can show comparison by adding –er, thus creating the word older. Likewise, the superlative of old becomes oldest, by adding the –est ending to the root word.

  • The old ship is the USS Constitution.
  • The older ship of the two is the USS Constitution.
  • The oldest ship in the Navy is the USS Constitution.

By adding the ending –est, more than two things can be compared. In this case, the oldest ship qualifies or implies that the ship is older than any other ship in the Navy. It is understood by naming this ship, and not every ship in the Navy, that enough information exists for you to know that the USS Constitution is older than any ship in the Navy. Oldest modifies ship in this sentence. Note: The name of a ship, in this case the USS Constitution, is italicized.

  • The old ship is the USS Constitution.
  • That ship is not older than the USS Constitution. (Here, two ships are being compared, one named and the other unnamed.)
  • That ship is not the oldest in the Navy. (Here, the statement is that the oldest ship in the navy is the USS Constitution, and not the assumed second ship.)

When comparing what two things or people do, look at what makes one different from the other. Adverbs of comparison are used to show what one thing does better or worse than the other.

The rule for forming the comparative of an adverb is: If it has the same form as an adjective, add the suffix –er to the end. When an adverb ends in –ly, however, the word more (or less) is put in front of the adverb. For example:

  • Jill runs faster than Jack. Fast is the same whether adverb or adjective (without –ly on the end).
  • Jill did her homework more frequently than Jack. Frequently is an adverb with –ly on the end, so add more before it. (When comparing two things like Jill and Jack’s homework output, put than between the adverb and what is being compared.)

The superlative of an adverb is used when a thing or person does something to the greatest degree in a group.

The rule for forming the superlative is: If it has the same form as an adjective, add the suffix –est to the end of the word. When an adverb ends in –ly, most (or least) is put in front of the adverb. Superlatives can be preceded by the, but this is not usual. For example:

  • Jill won the race because she ran the fastest. Fast is the same whether adverb or adjective (without –ly on the end).
  • Professor Jones ran the most regularly attended lectures. Regularly ends in –ly, so add most before it.

Common Pitfall: Irregular Endings of Comparison Words

As just stated, most comparisons simply add –er and most superlatives add –est. However, if the word ends in –y, make the comparative or superlative by changing the to before adding –er or –est, respectively. The first three comparison words in the following list are regular; the last three end in –y and show the change to i.


Also, some other adjectives and adverbs are irregular in their comparative or superlative form. The following irregular adverbs are exceptions to the rule:

wellbetterthe best
badlyworsethe worst

The following irregular adjectives are exceptions to the rule:

kindlykindlierthe kindliest
bad/badlyworsethe worst
far (geographic distance)fartherthe farthest
far (additional)furtherthe furthest
good/wellbetterthe best
littlelessthe least
moremorethe most
old (position in family)elderthe eldest
old (age)olderthe oldest
beautifulmore beautifulthe most beautiful
intelligentmore intelligentthe most intelligent

The following are sentences where the irregular adjectives and adverbs are used in their proper context:

  • Bad (adjective):
  • He felt bad.
  • He later felt worse.
  • Even later, he felt the worst he had felt all day.
  • Badly (adverb):
  • He felt badly that the presentation went poorly.
  • He felt worse that the presentation did not appeal to the board.
  • He felt the worst that he had ever felt about a presentation.
  • Well (adverb):
  • She is well.
  • She is doing better.
  • She is feeling the best she has felt in weeks.

Common Pitfall: Double Comparisons and Superlatives

To avoid an improper use of grammar, do not add or double comparisons.

funnyfunnier (not more funnier)funniest (not most funniest)
sillysillier (not more sillier)silliest (not most silliest)

Common Pitfall: Adjectives and Adverbs That Should Not Be Compared

The following list contains adjectives and adverbs that are noncomparable because of their respective meanings:

  • Unique (adjective)
  • Either something is unique or it is not unique. The meaning implies that something is one of a kind. Something cannot be more unique or most unique.
  • Absolute (adjective)
  • An absolute adjective. Degrees of absolute do not exist. Something cannot be more absolute or most absolute.
  • Essential (adjective)
  • Something is either essential or not essential. It is not possible for something to be more essential or most essential.
  • Immortal (adjective)
  • Meaning to live forever. Something either lives forever or it does not.
  • Universal (adjective)
  • Meaning present everywhere. Something is either universal, or it is not. Things cannot be more universal or most universal.

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