degree (adjectives and adverbs)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

Good is an irregular adjective: it changes its form in the comparative degree (better) and the superlative degree (best). The adjective bad is also irregular: it, too, changes its form in the comparative degree (worse) and the superlative degree (worst). (porcorex/Getty Images)

Definition

In English grammar, degree is one of the three forms used in the comparison of adjectives and adverbs:

Almost all one-syllable adjectives, along with some two-syllable adjectives, add -er to the base to form the comparative, and -est to form the superlative. In most adjectives of two or more syllables, the comparative and superlative degrees are marked by more and most respectively.

Common adjectives with irregular comparative and superlative forms include the following:

  • good, better, best
  • bad, worse, worst
  • many, more most
  • little, less, least

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:

Etymology
From the Latin, "step"
 

Examples and Observations
 

  • "Every day was a happy day, and every night was peaceful."
    (E.B. White, Charlotte's Web. Harper, 1952)
  • "This was a brighterhappier day. We were all together and we were going to stay that way."
    (Peter Martin, A Dog Called Perth. Orion Books, 2001)
  • "This is the happiest day of my life, because today I have fallen in love."
    (Philippa Gregory, The Boleyn Inheritance. Touchstone, 2006)
  • "The kids marvel at the rolling brown field, where a handful of sheep graze undisturbed by automobiles or shopping centers—a reminder of what seems a simplermore peaceful place and time."
    (Jane Futcher, Marin: The Place, the People. Book Sales, 1983)
  • "I'm alone in the most peaceful place in the world. Well, maybe not the most peaceful place, as a monastery in the Alps where the monks have all taken a vow of silence and just make cheese all day might be a smidge quieter, but still it's very peaceful."
    (Anne Dayton and May Vanderbilt, The Book of Jane. Thorndike, 2008)
  • "Poverty makes you sad as well as wise."
    (Bertolt Brecht, The Threepenny Opera, 1928)
  • "My father went back to the tailoring business, a sadder and wiser man. No, not wiser—just sadder, for his thirteen dollars was gone forever."
    (Groucho Marx, Groucho and Me, 1959) 
  • "For of all sad words of tongue and pen,
    The saddest are these: 'It might have been!'"
    (John Greenleaf Whittier, "Maud Muller," 1854)
  • "Imagination is more important than knowledge."
    (Albert Einstein, The Saturday Evening Post, 1929)
  • "It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.”
    (Arthur Conan Doyle, "A Case of Identity")
     

Inflections and Words

 

"In some languages, adjectives share the declensions of nouns, inflecting to show gender, number, and case. In English, however, there are only two possible inflections for adjectives, the comparative and the superlative. The adjective comparative and superlative inflections {-er} and {-est} are quite regular, but they can be added only to one- or two-syllable words in English. We have tall, taller, tallest and heavy, heavier, heaviest but not visionary, *visionarier, *visionariest. Adjectives of more than two syllables do not accept inflectional morphemes; for them, entire words, rather than morphological suffixes, are used to indicate the comparative (more visionary) and superlative (most reluctant).



"Note that the comparative and superlative inflections also appear on a small number of adverbs: He drove longer and faster than anyone else."
(Thomas P. Klammer et al., Analyzing English Grammar, 5th ed. Pearson, 2007)

Pronunciation: di-GREE