Comparative and Superlative Adjectives: Rules and Examples

Adjectives can compare two things or more than two things. When we make these comparisons, we use comparative and superlative forms of adjectives.

Comparatives

One way to describe nouns (people, objects, animals, etc.) is by comparing them to something else. When comparing two things, you’re likely to use adjectives like smaller, bigger, taller, more interesting, and less expensive. Notice the ‑er ending, and the words more and less. A mistake that both native speakers and non-native speakers make is using incorrectly formed comparative adjectives. See the sentences below for an illustration of this common error:

His cat is more large than my dog.
His cat is larger than my dog.

So what makes the first example wrong and the second right? There are a few rules that explain this:

  • For adjectives that are just one syllable, add -er to the end (this explains the above example).
  • For two-syllable adjectives not ending in -y and for all three-or-more-syllable adjectives, use the form “more + adjective.”
  • For two-syllable adjectives ending in -y, change the -y to -i and add -er.

These simple rules make it easy to tell when you should add -er or -ier and when you should use “more + adjective.”

Here are a few more examples:

This house is more exciting than ever.
This house is excitinger than ever.
Mike is funnier than Isaac.
Mike is more funny than Isaac.

Notice the spelling change for adjectives ending in ‑y: the comparative ends in ‑ier.

This book is boringer than the last one.
This book is more boring than the last one.
Advertising pressures women to be more thin.
Advertising pressures women to be thinner.

Superlatives

When comparing more than two things, you’ll likely use words and phrases like smallest, biggest, tallest, most interesting, and least interesting. Notice the ‑est ending and the words most and least. Make sure you use the proper ending or superlative adjective when forming these superlatives. The examples below illustrate the correct form:

Martha is the elder of the four sisters.

If there were only two sisters, we could use the comparative elder here. Because there are four sisters, we need a superlative.

Martha is the eldest of the four sisters.

Here are a couple of other examples:

I think his last book is his least interesting; his third book was the most interesting.
That must be the weirdest play ever written.

Remember that adjectives ending in ‑y change their spelling when ‑est is added. To form these superlatives, change the y to an i before adding the -est ending, as illustrated below:

That is the sleepyest puppy of the litter.
That is the sleepiest puppy of the litter.

Forming Comparative and Superlatives of Irregular Adjectives

It’s important to note that there are irregular adjectives (and adverbs) that you have to memorize because they don’t follow the rules above. They are:

Adjective/Adverb Comparative Superlative
good/well better best
bad/badly worse worst
far farther, further the farthest, the furthest
little less least

Here are some examples of these irregular words as comparatives and superlatives in context:

Today I had the best time touring the city.
I went farther than my friend when we walked around the park.
You dance better than I do.
You bought the least attractive pair of moccasins at the thrift store.
He can run the farthest of his classmates, but that’s only once around the track.
I do badly in math, but at least I’m not the worst.

Comparative and Superlative of “Handsome”

Besides the irregular words in the table above, one other unclear comparative/superlative choice is handsomer/more handsome and handsomest/most handsome. The rules call for handsomer and handsomest, but usage has changed over time. Modern speakers prefer more handsome to handsomer, and there is an even split between handsomest and most handsome. Preferred usage typically follows what native speakers say, and the trend seems to be moving toward the simpler construction of more + adjective and the most + adjective.

Weekly Grammar Tips
Weekly Grammar Tips
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