Adjectives: degrees of comparison [infographic]

By / Category: infographic, language / Jan, 9th 2012 / Print Story

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Adjectives come in a rainbow of flavors, but they have some rules and regulations when used for comparison. Like anything else, there are also some exceptions to those rules.

What are Adjectives?
An adjective is a word that describes a person, place, or thing (nouns and pronouns), and they generally appear before the word they modify. The articles “a,” “an” and “the” are also adjectives. Nationality, religious affiliation and culture are “proper adjectives” and always have their first letter capitalized. They can be stacked as deeply as needed, but two or more adjectives require commas to separate them.

blue donkey
small car
scary, long, black, Scandinavian snake

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Adjective Degrees
When used for comparison, adjectives have separate forms based on the number of objects being compared. The base word is called the “positive,” and the degrees of modification are “comparative” and “superlative.”

“Positive” adjectives: non-comparative, base adjective.
Frank is sweet.
That bay horse is fast.

“Comparative degree” of adjectives: the form used to compare two nouns, usually assisted by the word “than.”

Gwen is sweeter than Frank.
The white horse is faster than that bay horse.

“Superlative degree” of adjectives: the form used to compare more than two nouns, usually preceded by the word “the.”
“Mirror mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?”
Of the dwarves, “Grumpy” seemed to be the crankiest.

Irregular Comparative and Superlative Adjectives
Some adjective are irregular in their comparative and superlative forms, such as “good better best,” “little less least,” and “bad worse worst.”

His haircut looks better than his suit.
Hugh was the least likely of my cousins to get into trouble.
I’ve complained about the weather in several cities I’ve lived in; because of the snow, Chicago is the worst of them all.

Another oddball is the positive “well,” as in “healthy.”

You look well today.
You look better than you did yesterday.
As a matter of fact, this is the best you’ve looked all week.

-Er, -Est, and Less/More/Most
Words of one syllable can be modified with “-er” and “-est.”

bigger planes
fattest sheep

Words with more than two syllables are modified with helpers “less,” “more” and “most.”

less energetic
more expensive
most fortunate

Darn Those Two-Syllable Adjectives!
Adjectives made of two syllables can be modified either way, depending on the word.

Those adjectives that end in “-er,” “-le,” “-y,” “-ow,” and those with emphasis on the second syllable use “-er” and “-est.” Those that end in a consonant and “-y” combination–such as “pretty” or “early”–also use “-er” and “-est,” but they add an “i,” so that “pretty” becomes “prettier” and “prettiest,” and “early” becomes “earlier” and “earliest.”

Adjectives ending in “-ous,” “-ed,” “-re,” “-ing,” “-ful,” and those with emphasis on the first syllable use “more” and “most.”

If all of this this sounds intimidating, at the very least remember to never use both at the same time. Let’s examine the positive “slow” as an example.

Wrong: most slowest racehorse
Right: most slow racehorse
Right: slowest racehorse

There are undoubtedly more adjectives that buck the rules, and most of those probably have two syllables, since they seem to be the feistiest. Can you think of any that don’t follow this list of rules?

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