Good, better, best: forming comparatives and superlatives

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by Liz Walter

We often need to compare one person or thing with another, and in this post I am going to look at how we do this. This is a fairly basic topic, but one where I find that intermediate students still often make mistakes.

We make comparatives by adding -er to the end of an adjective or by putting more in front of the adjective: Your hair is longer than mine. It is more stylish.

We make superlatives by adding -est to the end of an adjective and the in front of it or by putting the most in front of the adjective: Everest is the highest mountain in the world. It is the most beautiful place I have ever seen.

There are some fairly simple rules for which form to use. If the adjective has one syllable, use -er/the -est: a louder noise/the fastest car. And if the adjective has three or more syllables, use more/the most: a more interesting book/the most expensive toy.

Adjectives with two syllables are a little more complicated. If they end in ­-y, -er, -le or -ow, you can use either form: He’s feeling happier/more happy now. The narrowest/most narrow roads are in the city centre.

All other two-syllable adjectives can only use more/the most: She is more patient than my old teacher. That was the most boring movie I’ve ever seen.

So if you’re not sure, the safest thing is to use more/the most with all two-syllable words.

There are a few other things you need to remember. The most important one is: never use -er/the -est and more/the most together. You may sometimes hear native speakers do this, but it is not correct standard English.

Another important rule is that when one-syllable adjectives end with a single short vowel and a consonant, you need to double the consonant before -er/est: It is hotter today. It’s the biggest lake in the world.

Also, when adjectives end with the suffix -y, you need to change the y to an i before you add the -er/est endings: I was lonelier than before. It’s the funniest movie I’ve ever seen.  

A common mistake for students of English is to write ‘then’ rather than ‘than’ in sentences such as: He is older than me. Make sure that you always write ‘than’ between two things or people you are comparing.

Finally, there are three very common adjectives that have very irregular comparative and superlative forms. They are good > better > best, bad > worse > worst and far > further > furthest: His laptop is better than mine. We climbed the furthest hill.

15 thoughts on “Good, better, best: forming comparatives and superlatives

  1. Abdo Hassan

    In the some word such as superior and inferior why it used to instead of than in compartive form
    You are superior to us

    1. Liz Walter

      Those words already have the specific meaning of better and worse, so they don’t need to use the comparative form.

  2. Mujahed Jadallah

    It seems to me that distinction between gradable adjectives (those allowing comparative forms) and nongradable adjectives is heading for extinction. To me, however, the fixed expression ‘more dead than alive’ doesn’t seem to refer to real death and life. It is more likely to refer to being closer to death than life. Is that right?

  3. Renee

    Correct comoarative is far farther, farthest , a physical reference to distance.
    Ergo, “thr furthest hill” is an error.
    Further is not interchangeable with farther.

    1. Liz Walter

      I’m afraid that’s not correct, Renee – at least for British English. For British English, further and furthest sound most natural – farther and farthest are correct but sound slightly formal or old-fashioned. But maybe it’s different in American English?

  4. Thanks for the blog on comparatives & superlatives. Luckily, although I didn’t even remember the definition of, or recognize the use of, a superlative, I use them correctly (pure luck). However, I do have problems when to use words such as worse/worst (worst just sounds wrong to me), further/furtherest, farther/fartherest, & I know there are others as well. I also have problems when knowing to use commas in a sentence. I sometimes think I over use them. I took Gregg Shorthand in high school & can still use it, but mostly for personal notes. I am a great speller, however taking the shorthand class can really mess you up with your spelling of you are not diligent. Further, social media has butchered proper grammar. My texts, posts, comments are usually longer than the average bear because I refuse to start using “social media slang.” It concerns me that we have an entire generation who know very little about spelling or proper grammar. Most don’t even make an attempt to use proper grammar. Do you know that most public schools no longer teach cursive writing? I know of a woman who said one of her high school age grand children cannot READ cursive. No one seems to think this as a terrible disservice to our children but me. I do not expect perfection, as I know how hard it is to remember things I was taught 40 years ago, but I DO try. Do you agree with the prevailing belief of not teaching children cursive? Just curious about the opinions of others. Sorry for the rant.

  5. Johnson

    It’s good but needs some more information regarding how to change positive. Comparitve and superlative

  6. Williams

    It would albe be great to post an explanation on how to use them. For example when it is said ‘She is taller than her sisters.’ Why not superlative?

    1. Louis Vedros

      I hear comparisons on TV using superlatives like this: “He is one of the wealthiest people on earth” When I was in school last century, my English teacher would have used wealthier.

      Has grammar changed in the last 50 years or was my teacher wrong?

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