Understanding Comparatives and Superlatives
One of the first things you’ll learn when studying English is that adjectives are words used to describe people, places or objects. In very simple terms, this means that when you read or hear a phrase such as “the big cow,” the word “big” is used as an adjective to describe the cow. Hopefully this is relatively simple for most learners of English to master. Today we’re going to talk about comparatives and superlatives.
Adjectives can also come in very useful when comparing two or more things, as they can be changed to ‘comparative’ or ‘superlative’ form.
These are used to compare differences between the objects they modify. The general form of a sentence using a comparative adjective is:
Subject (noun) + verb + comparative adjective + than + object (noun).
For example, “This cow is bigger than that sheep.”
These are used to describe an object at the upper or lower limit of a certain quality, and are used in sentences where a subject is compared to a group of objects. The sentence structure follows this pattern:
Subject (noun) + verb + the + superlative adjective + object (noun).
For example, “The cow was the biggest of all the cows in the field.”
Making the comparative or superlative form of adjectives
This can be a little tricky to master, as the rules for creating a comparative or superlative form of an adjective depend on how many syllables the word you’re changing has, and how it is spelt. Unsurprisingly, there are also various exceptions to the rules and some irregular adjectives that follow no rules at all! However, this should help you master some of the principles:
One-syllable adjectives: these are the easiest to change. Simply add “er” to make the comparative form and “est” to make the superlative.
For example: clean becomes cleaner or cleanest.
Now here come the exceptions which depend on the spelling of the adjective:
If the adjective ends in one vowel and one consonant, the consonant is often doubled.
For example: wet becomes wetter or wettest.
If the adjective ends in “y”, this usually changes to “i”.
For example: dry becomes drier or driest
If the adjective ends in “e”, don’t add another “e”.
For example: large becomes larger or largest.
The one-syllable exceptions: some one-syllable adjectives don’t follow the rules at all! For example, you can’t add “er” or “est” to the following words:
- fun – instead you say “more fun” or “most fun”
- real – instead you say “more real” or “most real”
- right – “more right” or “most right”
- wrong – “more wrong” or “most wrong”
Two-syllable adjectives: generally, we use “more” or “most” to make these into comparatives and superlatives.
For example: careful becomes “more careful” or “most careful”.
However, this being the English language, there are of course some exceptions! Generally these need to be learned individually.
For example: clever can become cleverer or cleverest. Other exceptions include narrow, quiet and simple, which can also be changed to comparatives and superlatives using “er” and “est”.
For example: happy can become happier or happiest (note that while this is another exception, the rule about changing the “y” to “i” we outlined above still applies).
Adjectives with more than two syllables: the only way of turning an adjective with three or more syllables into a comparative or superlative is to use “more” or “most”.
For example: beautiful becomes “more beautiful” or “most beautiful”.
Irregular adjectives: there are also some adjectives that don’t follow any of these rules! They just need to be learned individually. These are some of the main examples of irregular adjectives:
- good becomes better or best
- bad becomes worse or worst
- far becomes further or furthers
- much becomes more or most
- little becomes less or least.