Comparative Forms of English Adjectives and Adverbs

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

Young woman training
Stronger is the comparative form of strong.

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In English grammar, the comparative is the form of an adjective or adverb involving a comparison of some sort. Comparatives in English are usually either marked by the suffix -er (as in "the faster bike") or identified by the words more or less ("the more difficult job").

Almost all one-syllable adjectives and some two-syllable adjectives add -er to their base to form the comparative. In most adjectives of two or more syllables, the comparative is identified by the words more and less. If after reading this you want a little more practice with this form, test your knowledge by working through this exercise in using comparative and superlative adjectives.

Comparative Forms

Of course, not all adjectives and adverbs fit the simple rules for forming the comparative listed above. As this excerpt from Geoffrey Leech's A Glossary of English Grammar will show, some words are irregular and require alternative comparative forms less often used. "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," (Leech 2006).

See also this comparative-packed example from Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass: "'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,'"(Carroll 1865).

Correlative Forms

Comparative adjectives and adverbs can also be used correlatively or to show connections side-by-side. English Grammar: A University Course expands on this. "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) ... The sooner you forget the whole incident, the better. (adv-adv) It's funny, the more painting you do, the more you realize you don't know. ... The more closely I look at the problem, the less clearly I see a solution," (Downing and Locke 2006).

Examples and Observations

As you might expect, comparatives appear often in speech and writing, so there is no shortage of examples from media. These excerpts, featuring quotes and text passages, will not only give more examples of comparatives both regular and irregular but also show you how versatile these words can be.

  • "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
  • "There is no kind of dishonesty into which otherwise good people more easily and frequently fall than that of defrauding the government." -Benjamin Franklin
  • "We can rebuild. Enlarge the containment field. Make it bigger and stronger than ever! But we need money," (Molina, Spider-Man 2).
  • "The stronger the smell of whiskey on him, the kinder and gentler he was with me and my brother," (Crews 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," (Hamill 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," (Reverdy 1987).
  • "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," (Nietzsche 1997).
  • "You're a woman after my own heart. Tougher than wagon leather, smarter than spit, and colder than January," (Cable, The King and Four Queens).
  • "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," (Murdoch 1974).

Jokes About Comparatives

Just like every other field of communication, the world of comedy is rife with jokes containing comparatives. Here are several to make you smile.

  • "When I'm good, I'm very good, but when I'm bad, I'm better," (West, I'm No Angel).
  • "[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," (Barry 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!'" (Tucker 2005).
  • "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," (Wodehouse 1934).

Sources

  • Barry, Dave. I'll Mature When I'm Dead. Penguin Random House, 2010.
  • Carroll, Lewis. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. Macmillan Publishers, 1865.
  • Crews, Harry. A Childhood: The Biography of a Place. University of Georgie Press, 1978.
  • Downing, Angela, and Philip Locke. English Grammar: A University Course. Routledge, 2006.
  • Hamill, Pete. A Drinking Life. Back Bay Books, 1994.
  • Leech, Geoffrey. A Glossary of English Grammar. Edinburgh University Press, 2006.
  • Murdoch, Iris. The Sacred and Profane Love Machine. Chatto & Windus, 1974.
  • Nietzsche, Friedrich. Beyond Good and Evil. Dover Publications, 1997.
  • Raimi, Sam, director. Spider-Man 2. Columbia Pictures, 30 June 2004.
  • Reverdy, Pierre. "The Glory of Words." Places of Memory. Gallimard, 1986.
  • Ruggles, Wesley. I'm No Angel. Paramount Pictures, 1933.
  • Tucker, Ken. Kissing Bill O'Reilly, Roasting Miss Piggy: 100 Things to Love and Hate About TV. Macmillan, 2005.
  • Walsh, Raoul. The King and Four Queens. GABCO, 21 Dec 1956.
  • Wodehouse, P.G. Right Ho, Jeeves. Barrie & Jenkins, 1934.