Adjectives can compare two things or more than two things. When we make these comparisons, we use comparative and superlative forms of adjectives.
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:
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:
Notice the spelling change for adjectives ending in ‑y: the comparative ends in ‑ier.
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:
If there were only two sisters, we could use the comparative elder here. Because there are four sisters, we need a superlative.
Here are a couple of other examples:
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:
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:
|far||farther, further||the farthest, the furthest|
Here are some examples of these irregular words as comparatives and superlatives in context:
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.