Adjectives – Comparative and Superlative


    We use gradation of adjectives when we want to rank or simply compare something.

    1 Basic Rules

    Gradation of adjectives
    Before introducing the basic rules, it will certainly not hurt to remember what the gradation of adjectives is. Imagine you are in a cross-country race where three runners compete. When the race is over we can say that despite losing, the runner who finished third was fast; the runner, who was placed second, was faster and the winner was the fastest. All the highlighted words are adjectives, but each has a different “grade“. We use gradation of adjectives when we want to rank or simply compare something.

    1. As we pointed out in the introduction, for adjectives we distinguish 3 levels:

    • First Degree: the basic form of the adjective – good, nice, etc.
      • Fast
    • Second Degree: (comparative): comparing two things, people, events – better, nicer, etc.
      • Faster
    • Third Degree (superlative): determining something that is BEST – the best, the nicest, etc.
      • The fastest

    2. However, to be able to form the individual degrees, we must also distinguish between short and long adjectives because each group has its own rules.

    a. Short adjectives are monosyllabic or two-syllabic, e.g.:

    • Monosyllabic: Fast, slow, nice
    • Two-syllabic: Funny, pretty, busy

    b. Long adjectives have two or more syllables. How do we know if a two-syllable adjective belongs to the first or second group? The
    adjectives that end with the letter -y are always referred to as short adjectives, and the rest are, in most cases, referred to as long adjectives, such as:

    • Two-syllabic: Grateful, stressful, clever
    • Multi-syllabic: Beautiful, interesting, expensive

    3.  Now we are ready to focus on the formation of these adjectives:

    Short adjectives

    • The First degree = the basic form of the adjective
      • Fast
    • The Second degree = the comparative – we add – er to the basic form
      • Faster
    • The Third degree = the superlative – we add the definite article before the basic form and the ending -est at the end of the basic form
      • The fastest

    Gradation of short adjectives:

    1. Degree2. Degree(Comparative)3. Degree (Superlative)
    SlowSlowerThe slowest
    NiceNicerThe nicest
    BigBiggerThe biggest
    SmallSmallerThe smallest
    FunnyFunnierThe funniest
    PrettyPrettierThe prettiest

    Double Consonants: As you can see from the chart above, if the word is in the following order: consonant – vowel – consonant (e.g. the word BIG) and the consonant is stressed, then there is  duplication of the last letter in the second degree (BIG → BIGGER)

    Change from Y to I: If the adjective ends with Y and there is a consonant before it (FUNNY, PRETTY), the Y is changed to I (FUNNY → FUNNIER, PRETTY → PRETTIER)

    Long adjectives

    • The First degree = the basic form of the adjective
      • Beautiful
    • The Second degree = we add the word MORE before the basic form
      • More beautiful
    • The Third degree = we add the definite article and the word MOST before the basic form
      • The most beautiful

    Gradation of long adjectives:

    1.Degree2.Degree (Comparative)3.Degree (Superlative)
    ExpensiveMore expensiveThe most expensive
    InterestingMore interestingThe most interesting
    ImportantMore importantThe most important
    UsefulMore usefulThe most useful
    StressfulMore stressfulThe most stressful

    2 Comparative Degree

    Let’s now take a closer look at the second degree of adjectives. As we said in the introduction, we use the second degree to compare two things, people or events.

    If we want to compare two adjectives in a sentence, we use the word THAN:
    • Hanna is taller than Tom.
    • The red shirt is more expensive than the blue shirt.

    If we want to put a personal pronoun behind the word THAN, we use object pronouns (him, her, me):
    • Peter is slower than me.
    • I think my sister is more beautiful than her.

    If we want to emphasize the comparison, we can add the word FAR, MUCH, A LOT:
    • Far nicer
    • Much nicer
    • A lot nicer

    If we want to weaken the comparison, we can add the words A BIT, A LITTLE:
    • A bit nicer
    • A little nicer

    3 Superlative Degree

    Let’s take another look at the third degree of adjectives – the superlative degree. As we said before, we use the superlative degree when we want to say something is the BEST. We also stated that we need the definite article to form it (both for the short and long adjectives):
    • The biggest
    • The most expensive

    In most cases, the definite article is necessary, but not every time. To put it simply, if you could put a noun after the adjective, the definite article must also be there:
    • He is the best! = He is the best BOY.

    If the adjective does not represent a noun, the article is not necessary:
    • It’s best if we just go home.

    If we want to emphasize the message, we can add the word VERY:
    • It was the very best I could do.

    4 Other Types of Comparison

    Gradation of irregular adjectives and other words

    For some adjectives, there are no rules that would make it easier for us to grade them. We just have to memorize them. The good news is that we do not have many of them. Here are some examples in the following chart:

    Irregular adjectives:

    1. Degree2. Degree (Comparative)3. Degree (Superlative)
    GoodBetterThe best
    BadWorseThe worst
    FarFartherThe farthest
    LittleLessThe least
    MuchMoreThe most

    Negative gradation

    If we want to weaken the meaning of the adjectives (important – less important – the least
    important), we can use the words LESS and THE LEAST from the previous chart:

    Negative gradation:

    1. Degree2. Degree (Comparative)3. Degree (Superlative)
    ImportantLess importantThe least important
    CleverLess cleverThe least clever

    Adjectives that cannot be graded

    There are some adjectives that cannot be graded. When something is wooden, it cannot be woodier or even the most woodest. These adjectives are called ABSOLUTE adjectives. These are some examples of absolute adjectives that we can’t grade:

    • Wooden
    • Blind
    • Married
    • Dead
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    She completed her master's degree at the Faculty of Education, Charles University, specializing in English language, music culture, pedagogy, and social pedagogy. She has many years of experience in language teaching in the Czech Republic, USA, Indonesia and Germany. She works as a methodologist and coordinator of language courses in ONLINE learning, where she leads a team of lecturers and the creation of language courses for more than 137 000 students. Vendula follows the motto: “Learning should be fun, because if we enjoy what we do, then it makes sense”.