English Grammar Degree of Comparison Rules

Degree of Comparison
The degree of comparison speaks to the three forms of adjectives that can be used when comparing items:

Positive Degree
Comparative Degree
Superlative Degree
There are different ways to form the comparative and superlative degrees of adjectives.

Add -er or more to form the comparative of most one-syllable and two-syllable adjectives. More, most, less, or least are added to adjectives of three or more syllables to form the superlative.
What is a syllable?
A syllable is a single, unbroken sound of a spoken (or written) word. Syllables usually contain a vowel and accompanying consonants. Sometimes syllables are referred to as the ‘beats’ of spoken language.
For example:

Cat has one syllable (words of one syllable are monosyllabic)
Water has two syllables (wa / ter)
Computer has three syllables (com / pu / ter)
Category has four syllables (cat / e / gor / y)
Positive Comparative Superlative
easy easier easiest
delicious more delicious most delicious
good better best
talented less talented least talented
Rules and Uses of Degrees of Comparison with Examples
Avoiding Errors in Degrees of Comparison
Let’s discuss the degrees of comparisons along with common errors that writers make in forming comparisons.

1. Positive Degree
The positive form refers to the unaltered version of an adjective, such as smart, funny, and young.

This form can be used to compare items when combined with as.
It is important to note that the adjective should have as prior to and following it in order for the comparison to be complete.

Example:

Josh is as smart as Kelsey.
2. Comparative Degree
When it comes to degrees of comparison, you should use comparative and superlative forms of adjectives.

The comparative degree is used when you are comparing two items.

Most comparatives use the ending er, like smarter, faster, and smoother (there are exceptions like less, which we will be discussed below), but some require you to use more followed by an adjective or adverb, such as more attractive.
Typically you will use the comparative degree in association with than.

Example:

He read Dinkar’s poem faster than Rosy did.
Let’s discuss some guidelines for deciding whether you should use the –er ending or more when you use the comparative degree.

Most one-syllable adjectives and two-syllable adjectives that end in y end in –er (calmer and lovelier), while adjectives with more syllables use more (more beautiful).
However, you should keep in mind there are some exceptions to these guidelines because there are some two-syllable adjectives that use the ending –er, such as simple.

Note: If you are using adjectives that end in –er in the same list with adjectives that use more, the adjectives that end in –er should be listed before the adjectives that use more.

You should also note that there is a specific order for presenting adjectives in a list: observation (pretty), physical description (size, shape, age, and color), origin (Spanish), material (cotton), and qualifier (normally already part of the noun, like walking stick).
Example:

She is smarter, smaller, and more beautiful than Kylie is.
3. Superlative Degree
The superlative degree compares three or more items and is considered the greatest degree.

Many superlatives end with –est: smartest, fastest, and smoothest, unless the superlative ends with a y in which you would end with or –iest, like happiest.
This rule also applies to the comparative degree that ends with a y, such as easier. Normally, the superlative degree is preceded by the and is followed by a noun in the sentence.

Example:

Karen has the highest grade in the group.
Irregular Adjectives and Adverbs
While we are discussing comparative and superlative degrees, let’s also discuss irregular adjectives and adverbs.

These words are irregular because when you change the degree, you change the word completely instead of just adding –er or –est to the end.
For example, the comparative form of little is less, and the superlative form is least.

Faulty Comparison
Faulty comparison can occur when a comparative ending in –er or a superlative ending in est is used with words like more, most, less, or least.
For example, you wouldn’t say more tastier; you would say tastier.

This kind of faulty comparison is called a double comparative or double superlative.

Example:

Ram’s resume is more clearer than Shyam’s. (Incorrect)
Ram’s resume is clearer than Shyam’s. (Correct)
Degree of Comparison for Absolute Adjectives
There are certain words that are considered to be absolute and so cannot be logically compared, like perfect and unique.
These words are considered to be absolutes because, by definition, there is not a degree of comparison. Something is either perfect or it is not—there are no higher degrees of perfection.

Example:
Ernest wrote the most perfect correspondence today. (Incorrect)
Ernest wrote a perfect correspondence today. (Correct)
As you can see by the example above, the correspondence can be perfect, but it cannot be more than perfect.

It is important to note that you can use adverbs, like almost, before the absolute. For example, the example above could be changed to “Ernest wrote a nearly perfect correspondence today.”
Some more examples of absolute adjectives are: adequate, complete, empty, entire, final, free, full, ideal, universal, ultimate, and whole.

Incomplete and Ambiguous Comparisons
In order for the reader to understand what items are being compared, the comparison needs to be complete.

Example:

Incomplete: Ana is not as mean.
This sentence is worded in a way that indicates there is a comparison, but the comparison is incomplete because we do not know what is being compared.
Complete: Ana is not as mean as Mena is.
This version of the example has a complete comparison of Ana and Mena.

When writing a comparative sentence, the comparison must be clear so the reader will know what is being compared, otherwise the comparison is ambiguous.
Example:

Ambiguous: Naomi scored more points in this basketball game.
In the ambiguous example above, the reader does not know what is being compared—are we comparing Naomi’s points to the rest of the team’s points, to another specific player’s points, or that she scored more points in this game than she did in the rest of the games this season.

Clear: Naomi scored more points than she did in the last game.
This complete example is clear about what is being compared: Naomi’s performance in this game is being compared to her performance in the previous game.

As you can see, each of these examples includes either as or than. As and than often indicate that there is going to be a comparison in the sentence.
You must be careful when using these terms, though, because when the sentence includes more than one noun that could be compared, the comparison can be ambiguous.

Ambiguous: Keith helped Amber more than Elizabeth on the homework assignment.
This sentence is ambiguous because we do not know if Keith helped Amber more than Elizabeth helped Amber or if Keith helped Amber more than he helped Elizabeth.

Clear: Keith helped Amber more than he helped Elizabeth on the homework assignment.
Now, this comparison is clearer because we know the complete comparison—Keith helped Amber more than he helped Elizabeth.

Illogical Comparisons
Illogical comparisons occur when two or more items are compared, but the items are not in the same category.

For example, you cannot compare Dickinson’s poetry with Whitman; you have to compare their poems (Dickinson’s poetry with Whitman’s poetry).

Example:

Illogical: The flowers in Quinton’s yard are prettier than Jacob.
This example includes a comparison between two items that are not in the same category—Quinton’s flowers (a person’s thing) and Jacob (a person). To fix this sentence, you have to compare the same kind of items.

Logical: The flowers in Quinton’s yard are prettier than the ones in Jacob’s yard.
This logical example compares both Quinton’s and Jacob’s flowers instead of flowers and a person.

Uses of Comparative Degree
1. When two individuals or groups are compared:

He is wiser than his younger brother.
NGO’s work better than the Police force.
2. When different qualities of the same person are compared we should use (more + positive degree) instead of just using a comparative degree.

Incorrect Correct
She is wiser than fairer. She is more wise than fair.
She is shorter than fatter. She is more short than fat.
3. When the selection of one out of the two persons or things is implied, the degree of comparison is followed by ‘of the‘

Incorrect Correct
She is wiser in the two sisters. She is wiser of the two sisters.
James is faster in the two boys. James is faster of the two boys.
4. If two comparatives are used in the same sentence to emphasis on a certain idea both of them should be followed by ‘the‘

Incorrect Correct
Higher you go, cooler it gets. The higher you go, the cooler it gets.
Better you eat, healthier you get The better you eat, the healthier you get
5. When one person or thing is compared to all other of same kind we use ‘any other‘ or ‘all other‘

Incorrect Correct
Kalidas is better than any poet. Kalidas is better than any other poet.
Shelly was greater than all poets. Shelly was greater than all other poets.
6. To enhance the degree of comparison we use (far + comparative) degree.

Incorrect Correct
Kalidas is better than any poet. Kalidas is far better than any other poet.
Shelly was more greater than all other poets. Shelly was far greater than all other poets.
7. Certain adjectives of comparative degree that take ‘to’ after them and not ‘than’ like senior, inferior, junior, prior, anterior, posterior, preferable, etc.

Incorrect Correct
He is superior than I He is superior to me.
Tea is preferable than coffee. Tea is preferable to coffee.
Certain comparatives that are now used in positive degree are elder, former, later, inner, outer, utter, upper, hinder, major, minor, interior, ulterior, posterior, etc.

Incorrect Correct
He is my elder than brother. He is my elder brother.
He is our former than prime minister. He is our former prime minister.
Uses of superlative degree
1. When more than two persons are compared we use superlative degree.

Incorrect Correct
He is the best musician of the two. He is the best musician.
2. It is generally preceded by ‘the‘ and followed by ‘of‘.

Incorrect Correct
He is the noblest man of town He is the noblest man of the town.
3. When a superlative degree is used after an adjective or a noun in possessive case we do not put ‘the‘ before the superlative.

Incorrect Correct
It was Kalidas’s the best play. It was Kalidas’s best play.
To intensify the superlative degree we use ‘by far’ before the superlative degree.

NEXT: Modal Verb Rules

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