It’s nowhere near as good: modifying comparisons

serdjophoto / E+ / Getty Images

by Liz Walter

Last month I wrote about how to form comparatives and superlatives. However, there are many occasions when we don’t simply want to say that one person or thing has more or less of a particular quality than another: we want to say how much more or less they have. That is when we need to modify our comparisons.

The most common way to talk about big differences is by using the word much: My pizza’s much bigger than yours. This book is much more interesting. We use far or a lot in the same way: My new computer is far smaller than my old one. It’s a lot less expensive to travel by bus. Very much or a good deal are slightly more formal: He seems very much happier now. Her new job is a good deal more demanding.

Continue reading “It’s nowhere near as good: modifying comparisons”

Good, better, best: forming comparatives and superlatives

SeanShot / E+ / Getty Images

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.

Countable or uncountable, and why it matters

Sergey Ryumin / Moment / Getty Images

by Liz Walter

Many dictionaries for learners of English (including the one on this site) show whether nouns are ‘countable’ or ‘uncountable’, often using the abbreviations C and U. Countable nouns are things that you can count – one dog, two dogs, twenty dogs, etc. Uncountable nouns are things that you cannot count – water, sadness, plastic, etc.

Continue reading “Countable or uncountable, and why it matters”

How to use articles: another look (2)

aga7ta/iStock/Getty Images Plus

by Liz Walter

Last month I looked at some of the questions raised in response to my 2015 post on articles. This post continues to answer some of these interesting points.

Continue reading “How to use articles: another look (2)”

How to use articles: another look (1)

Sergio Mendoza Hochmann/Moment/Getty Images

by Liz Walter

Back in August 2015, I wrote a post about using articles – the words a, an and the. That post has had the most hits of any published on this site, so it is obviously an area that learners of English are interested in. You can read the post here: https://dictionaryblog.cambridge.org/2015/08/19/a-an-and-the-how-to-use-articles-in-english/.

If you are not sure about using articles, do go and read it, as it contains all the most important rules. However, looking back over it now, I’m struck by the number of interesting comments and queries, so in this post and the next one, I am going to follow up on some of these because I think (hope!) a lot of people will find the answers useful.

Continue reading “How to use articles: another look (1)”

I wish I’d studied harder: Expressing regrets and wishes

FatCamera/E+/Getty Images

by Liz Walter

Nobody’s life is perfect, right? We all have things we’d like to change, or things we wish hadn’t happened. This post is about the way we express those feelings, and in particular the tenses we use, as learners of English (very understandably!) often make mistakes with them.

There are two basic phrases we use to express regrets and wishes: I wish and If only … .

When you are talking about situations that exist in the present, the strange thing you need to remember is that you talk about the situation in the past simple: Continue reading “I wish I’d studied harder: Expressing regrets and wishes”

Vertebrae, bacteria and cacti: Forming plurals in English 2

Enk Sodsoon/EyeEm/Getty Images

by Liz Walter

Last month I looked at the basic rules for forming plurals in English . In this post, I look at some more complex cases, where the words come from Latin and Greek.

A large proportion of English words have Latin or Greek roots. We still use the Latin plurals for many words, particularly in scientific language, although it is acceptable to use English plurals (usually with ‘s’ or ‘es’) for some of them, particularly non-technical words such as stadium or cactus. However, this depends on the English plural being simple to pronounce – the plural of crisis is always crises, probably because ‘crisises’ is so difficult to say. Continue reading “Vertebrae, bacteria and cacti: Forming plurals in English 2”

Feet, knives and sheep: Forming plurals in English 1

Alexander W Helin/Moment/Getty

by Liz Walter

For the majority of words in English, forming the plural is easy. All you need to do is add ‘s’. If the word ends in s, x, z, ch, or sh, you add ‘es’, otherwise it will be impossible to say. So, for example, we get tablesbirds, and teachers, or boxes, churches, and dishes.

However, as with most rules in English, there are lots of exceptions. I’ll start with some really common words that have irregular plurals. If you only have time to learn a few, learn these: Continue reading “Feet, knives and sheep: Forming plurals in English 1”

I’ll believe it when I see it: talking about certainty, probability and possibility

Blend Images – ERproductions Ltd/Brand X Pictures/Getty

by Liz Walter

Benjamin Franklin famously wrote that ‘nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes’. We all know how annoying it can be when someone seems to be completely sure about all their opinions, so it is important to be able to express certainty only where it is justified, and other degrees of probability or possibility where they are appropriate.

The most common way to do this is to use modal verbs. Compare the following sentences: Continue reading “I’ll believe it when I see it: talking about certainty, probability and possibility”

When no one was looking, she opened the door: Using narrative tenses

mrs/Moment Open/Getty

by Liz Walter

Everyone tells stories. We do it every day, even if it’s just telling our family that we met an old friend in the supermarket. English exams often ask students to write anecdotes or descriptions of past events. An important part of telling a story is using the right tenses because they show the reader or listener how the events in your story fit together. There are four main tenses that are often used for stories – in English language teaching, they are often known as the narrative tenses, because they are used to narrate (=tell) a story. Continue reading “When no one was looking, she opened the door: Using narrative tenses”