Comparatives and superlatives

Comparative and superlative adjectives and adverbs are absolutely fundamental to know if you want to speak and write descriptively in the English language. Knowing both of them will make you feel a lot more confident when talking to someone or when you’re writing down recommendations.

Take a look at this article to know more about these two forms in English grammar.

Comparative
Close up of old English dictionary page with word comparative

What are comparatives and superlatives?

Comparatives are adjectives or adverbs used to compare two or more nouns. They express a difference in degree, quality, number or amount.

In contrast, superlatives are a form of adjective or adverb that express that someone or something has more or less of a particular quality than anything or anyone else in the same category. They have the highest degree. Superlatives can also be used with more than two people or things if they are of the same quality.

We use both superlatives and comparatives when we want to emphasise how people or things are similar or different.

Let’s take a peek at comparatives first.

Comparatives
No, not that type of degree for comparatives and superlatives

Comparatives

As mentioned above comparatives are all about comparisons. You use them to compare things or people. When you form a comparative sentence, it is common to use the word than between the nouns.

For example, Chicago is bigger than Kansas City.

The word than comes after the comparative. Look at how we form comparative adjectives below.

Comparatives
Kansas City is smaller than Chicago

How do we form them?

One-syllable adjectives and adverbs

If you use one-syllable adjectives or adverbs, it is common to add er to the end of them in the comparative form.

small – smaller Arnold is smaller than Seb.

tall – taller The whole group is taller than me.

pink – pinker Their bedroom is pinker than mine.

However, some spelling changes are needed depending on the word used.

1) adjective/adverb ending in -ry

When the adjective ends in –y, it is common to change the y to i and add –er.

wry – wrierThey have a wrier sense of humour than me.

dry – drierEssex is drier than Yorkshire.

Comparatives
Essex is the driest region in England

2) adjectives/adverbs ending in –y

The above point is not true for all one-syllable adjectives that end in -y though. Most of them keep the y in.

sly-slyer Foxes are known to be slyer than dogs.

grey – greyerHe is greyer than her.

shy – shyer I am shyer than my colleagues.

Comparatives
Cute fox cubs

3) adjectives/adverbs ending in -e

We simply add –r to make these comparatives.

strange – strangerI don’t think there’s a TV show on Netflix stranger than Stranger Things.

wise – wiserShe may not be academically smart, but she is wiser than you.

nice – nicerThis year I want to be nicer than last year.

Comparatives
A lady scrolling a streaming site

4) When the adjective has both a vowel and a singular consonant at the end, we typically double the final consonant and add -er

sad – sadderWe are sadder than those lot over there!

thin – thinner –  The walls in my new house are thinner than the walls in your old one.

big – bigger Elephants are bigger than mice.

Comparatives
Elephants are bigger than mice

Exceptions

Of course, you know by now that English has many exceptions and monosyllabic comparatives are no exception!

With the adjectives below we use the word more instead of adding –er to the end of the adjective/adverb.

fun – more funMattie is more fun than Winifred.

ill – more ill I am more ill than I was a few days ago.

When talking, we can add –er or more for colours. 

My hair is greyer than yours.

My hair is more grey than yours.

Both make sense in English

Comparatives
Grey hair looks great

Adjectives with two or more and even three or more syllables

In most cases, two-syllable adjectives and adverbs are not followed with –er in the comparative form.

Instead, we use the words more or less with the base adjective. More indicates a higher degree whilst less a lower degree. This is true with all three-syllable adjectives and adverbs.

She is more beautiful than him.not She is beautifuler than him.

Yerevan is more ancient than Romenot Yerevan is ancienter than Rome.

Snakes can be more venomous than humansnot Snakes can be venomouser than humans.

They work more efficiently than us not They work efficientlyer than us (this is an adverb).

Comparatives
Yerevan in Armenia is older than Rome

Exceptions

However, you guessed it, there are some exceptions.

Two-syllable adjectives ending in –er, -le, or –ow

clever – cleverer I am cleverer than my peers.

gentle – gentlerYou are gentler with me than other people.

narrow – narrowerThis street is narrower than I imagined.

This is also true with two-syllable adjectives ending in y.

friendly – friendlierPeople are friendlier in the summer than in the winter.

pretty – prettierShe is prettier than her twin.

happy – happier I am generally happier when not interrupted.

Look at the table below for a few more examples.

itchyitchierearlyearlier
dreamydreamierfoggyfoggier
fluffyfluffiercloudycloudier
pickypickierhealthyhealthier
goofygoofiernaughtynaughtier
Comparatives
The road is about to get narrower

When do we use comparatives?

We already know that we use comparatives for comparing two or more than two things. But how else do English speakers use comparisons?

For change

We use comparatives when there is a change in something, particularly a feeling.

I feel happier now that I know I did well on my test.

He is a lot busier than he was two months ago.

To emphasise how much something is changing

Rent is getting more and more expensive every day.

When I had an allergic reaction, my face got bigger and bigger.

For this use, we eliminate the word than and use the word and between the two comparatives. We also repeat the same adjective for extra emphasis.

With the word never to emphasise an emotion or appearance

I have never felt more stressed than I do now.

You have never looked prettier.

To highlight a consequence of an action

The hotter it got, the more tired I felt

The higher we went, the more terrified we became

Here the word than is eliminated and a comparative is added into each of the separate clauses.

Comparatives
Sand dunes in the Sahara Desert, Merzouga, Morocco

Superlatives

As mentioned above, superlative forms are used to express that someone or something has the highest or lowest quality of a category. We can use them when we want to compare three or more things.

We use the word the before the superlative adjective and adverb.

The happiest person alive.

I like both Paris and Rome, but Dubrovnik is the best city in my opinion.

Comparatives
Dubrovnik, Croatia

Superlative forms mirror comparative rules, but with different words. With one-syllable adjectives/adverbs, we add est to the end of the base adjective. For two-syllable adjectives, the most or the least + base adjective is the form.

Least is the superlative of the word little when it means a small amount (not size).

Exceptions to this rule are highlighted in the table below

EstMost and least
If a one-syllable adjective ends in –ry, change the superlative to –iestAdd most or least for the exceptions listed at the end of one syllable comparatives
If a one-syllable adjective ends in a vowel + consonant, double the consonant
Add est for two syllable adjective ending in -er, -le, or -ow
Add -est for two syllable adjective ending in -y

Irregular Comparative and superlative adjectives

There are five irregular comparatives and superlatives that you need to know about.

AdjectiveComparativeSuperlative
goodbetterbest
badworseworst
far further/fartherfurthest/farthest
littlelessleast
muchmoremost

Be careful when using little. This irregular adjective is for amount not for size.

If using little for size, use the –er/-est form. For example,  I am the littlest person in my class.

Top tip: an easy way to remember this is to repeat “adjective comparative superlative good better best” and “adjective comparative superlative bad worse worst” and so on and so forth in your head.

Comparatives
Getting 5 stars in hospitality is great

Overview of comparative and superlative

Look at the table below for a complete overview of all the adverbs and adjectives used in this article.

BaseComparativeSuperlative
bigbiggerbiggest
smallsmallersmallest
talltallertallest
pinkmore pink/pinkermost pink/pinkest
wrywrierwriest
drydrierdriest
slyslyerslyest
greymore grey/greyermost grey/greyest
shyshyershyest
strangestrangerstrangest
wisewiserwisest
nicenicernicest
sadsaddersaddest
thinthinnerthinnest
rightmore rightmost right
wrongmore wrongmost wrong
funmore funmost fun
illmore illmost ill
ancientmore ancientmost ancient
beautifulmore beautifulmost beautiful
venomousmore venomousmost venomous
efficientlymore efficientlymost efficiently
clevercleverercleverest
quietquieterquietest
gentlegentlergentlest
narrownarrowernarrowest
friendlyfriendlierfriendliest
prettyprettierprettiest
happyhappierhappiest
busybusierbusiest
expensivemore expensivemost expensive
stressedmore stressedmost stressed
hothotterhottest
tiredmore tiredmost tired
highhigherhighest
terrifiedmore terrifiedmost terrified

Is that everything?

Not at all! Take a peek at the video here on my Youtube channel English with Lucy https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oGr7l3q7SMI