Positive Degree in English Grammar

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

Shari Lewis reads the tale of Yertle the Turtle to a young girl


Jacobsen / Getty Images 

In English grammar, the positive degree is the basic, uncompared form of an adjective or adverb, as opposed to either the comparative or superlative. Also called the base form or the absolute degree. The concept of positive degree in the English language is one of the simplest to grasp.  

For example, in the phrase "the big prize," the adjective big is in the positive degree (the form that appears in a dictionary). The comparative form of big is bigger; the superlative form is biggest.

C. Edward Good notes that "the raw adjective--in its positive state--merely describes the noun modified; it doesn't care about how this particular person or thing stacks up against other members of the same noun class" (Whose Grammar Book Is This Anyway? 2002)


From the Latin, "to place"

Examples and Observations

  • "Yertle the turtle was king of the pond.
    A nice little pond. It was clean. It was neat.
    The water was warm. There was plenty to eat."
    (Dr. Seuss, Yertle the Turtle. Random House, 1958)
  • "There were three nice, fat little pigs. The first was small, the second was smaller, and the third was the smallest of all."
    (Howard Pyle, "The Three Little Pigs and the Ogre." The Wonder Clock, 1988)
  • "It was a large heart with lots of hearts growing smaller inside, and piercing from the outside rim to the smallest heart was an arrow."
    (Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Random House, 1969)
  • "Few things are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good example."
    (Mark Twain, Pudd'nhead Wilson, 1894)
  • "The tone of the trombone is allied in quality to that of the French horn. It also possesses a noble and majestic sound, one that is even larger and rounder than the horn's tone."
    (Aaron Copland, What to Listen For in Music, 1939)
  • "Humanity has advanced, when it has advanced, not because it has been sober, responsible, and cautious, but because it has been playful, rebellious, and immature."
    (Tom Robbins, Still Life with Woodpecker. Random House, 1980)
  • "Mary's parents traveled far to trade and to search for food."
    (Shannon Lowry, Natives of the Far North. Stackpole, 1994)
  • "The inspirational value of the space program is probably of far greater importance to education than any input of dollars."
    (Arthur C. Clarke, Profiles of the Future: An Inquiry into the Limits of the Possible,1962)

Three Degrees to Consider

  •  "Adjectives change form to show degree of comparison. There are three degrees of comparison: positive, comparative, and superlative. . . .
  • "The positive degree describes one item or one group of items. The positive form is the form used in dictionary definitions." (A.C. Krizan et al., Business Communication, 8th ed. South-Western, Cengage, 2011)
  • "Adjectives change form or add more or most to show comparison. Almost all one-syllable adjectives—as well as many of two syllables—add er to their positive (noncomparative) form to show comparison with one thing; this form is called the comparative form. To show comparison with two or more things, these adjectives add est; this is called the superlative form. Some two-syllable adjectives and almost all adjectives with three or more syllables show comparison with one item by placing the word more before the adjective; they show comparison with two or more items by placing the word most before the adjective."
    (Peder Jones and Jay Farness, College Writing Skills, 5th ed. Collegiate Press, 2002)

Pronunciation: POZ-i-tiv

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Nordquist, Richard. "Positive Degree in English Grammar." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/positive-degree-adjectives-and-adverbs-1691646. Nordquist, Richard. (2023, April 5). Positive Degree in English Grammar. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/positive-degree-adjectives-and-adverbs-1691646 Nordquist, Richard. "Positive Degree in English Grammar." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/positive-degree-adjectives-and-adverbs-1691646 (accessed June 9, 2023).