Comparative Forms of Adjectives and Adverbs in English

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

comparative degree
Two parallel comparatives (an example of a comparative correlative). (Barry Lewis/Corbis/VCG/Getty Images)

In English grammar, the comparative is the form of an adjective or adverb involving a comparison of more or less, greater or lesser.

Comparatives in English are either marked by the suffix -er (as in "the faster bike") or identified by the word more or less ("the more difficult job".

Almost all one-syllable adjectives, along with some two-syllable adjectives, add -er to the base to form the comparative. In most adjectives of two or more syllables, the comparative is identified by the word more or less.

Test your knowledge by working through this Exercise in Using the Comparative and Superlative Forms of Adjectives.

Examples and Observations

  • "We can rebuild. Enlarge the containment field. Make it bigger and stronger than ever! But we need money." -Alfred Molina as Doc Ock in Spider-Man 2, 2004
  • "There is no kind of dishonesty into which otherwise good people more easily and frequently fall than that of defrauding the government." -Benjamin Franklin
  • "The stronger the smell of whiskey on him, the kinder and gentler he was with me and my brother." -Harry Crews, A Childhood: The Biography of a Place, 1978
  • "There is nothing worse than aggressive stupidity." -Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
  • "In memory, the games seem continuous and the days longer, richer, denser, and emptier than any others in my life." -Pete Hamill, A Drinking Life, 1994
  • "I had always wanted to go further, higher, deeper, free myself from the net that held me, but whatever I tried I always ended up back at the same door." -Pierre Reverdy, "The Glory of Words," 1953; trans. by Andrew McCulloch, 2011
  • "Men have so far treated women like birds who had strayed to them from some height: wilder, stranger, sweeter, and more soulful--but as something one has to lock up lest it fly away." -Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil
  • "You're a woman after my own heart. Tougher than wagon leather, smarter than spit, and colder than January." -Clark Cable as Dan Kehoe in The King and Four Queens, 1956
  • "After a second of shock he had recognized Edgar Demarnay. They had not met for several years. An Edgar grown fatter and grosser and older, but Edgar still, with his big pink boy's face and his fat lips and his copious short fluffy hair now pale grey instead of pale gold." -Iris Murdoch, The Sacred and Profane Love Machine, 1974

Comparative Forms

  • "There are a few irregular comparative forms, for example good ~ better, bad ~ worse, little ~ less, many/much ~ more, far ~ further. Regular one-syllable gradable adjectives and adverbs form their comparative by adding -(e)r, but for most adjectives and adverbs of more than one syllable it is necessary to add the preceding adverb more (or less for a comparison in the opposite direction), for example more careful, more slowly, less natural. The comparative forms make a series with the base (uninflected) and superlative forms." -Geoffrey Leech, A Glossary of English Grammar. Edinburgh University Press, 2006 "'Take some more tea,' the March Hare said to Alice, very earnestly.
    "'I've had nothing yet,' Alice replied in an offended tone, 'so I can't take more.'
    "'You mean you can't take less,' said the Hatter: 'it's very easy to take more than nothing.'" -Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, 1865
  • "A man is usually more careful of his money than he is of his principles." -Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • "A solitary, unused to speaking of what he sees and feels, has mental experiences which are at once more intense and less articulate than those of a gregarious man." -Thomas Mann
  • "Nothing wilts faster than laurels that have been rested upon." -Carl Rowan
  • "The trouble about trying to make yourself stupider than you really are is that you very often succeed." -C. S. Lewis
  • "It is easier to live through someone else than to become complete yourself." -Betty Friedan
  • "It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt." -Mark Twain

Correlative Forms

  • "The constructions formed by the more . . . the more (or -er . . . -er), the less . . . the less, the more . . . the less can be used correlatively to indicate a progressive increase, or decrease, of the quality or process described. Both adjectives and adverbs can occur in the construction: The bigger they are, the harder they fall, don't they? (adj-adv) [BNC KBB 4742]
    The sooner you forget the whole incident, the better. (adv-adv)
    It's funny, the more painting you do, the more you realise you don't know. [BNC CCO 344]
    The more closely I look at the problem, the less clearly I see a solution."(adv-adv) -Angela Downing and Philip Locke, English Grammar: A University Course. Routledge, 2006
  • "The more original a discovery, the more obvious it seems afterward." -Arthur Koestler

The Lighter Side of Comparatives

  • "When I'm good, I'm very good, but when I'm bad, I'm better." -Mae West to Cary Grant in I'm No Angel, 1933)
  • "[W]e did learn some important life lessons from sports. I learned, for example, that even though I was not as big, or fast, or strong, or coordinated as the other kids, if I worked really hard--if I gave 100 percent and never quit—I would still be smaller, slower, weaker, and less coordinated than the other kids." -Dave Barry, I'll Mature When I'm Dead. Berkley, 2010
  • "In one of his shows, [Jack Benny] and his guest star Vincent Price drank some freshly brewed coffee. After savoring a sip, Benny announced, 'This is the better coffee I ever tasted.'
    Price snapped, 'You mean the best coffee!'
    Benny snapped back, 'There's only two of us drinking it!'" -Ken Tucker, Kissing Bill O'Reilly, Roasting Miss Piggy: 100 Things to Love and Hate About TV. Macmillan, 2005
  • "Creamy Jif is peanuttier than any other leading creamy brand. Choosy moms choose Jif." -Advertisement for Jif peanut butter, Parents magazine, 2002)
  • "He had been looking like a dead fish. He now looked like a deader fish, one of last year's, cast up on some lonely beach and left there at the mercy of the wind and tides." -P.G. Wodehouse, Right Ho, Jeeves, 1934

Pronunciation: kom-PAR-a-tiv