What Are Comparatives?

Definition of "Comparative"

A comparative is the form of adjective or adverb used to compare two things. For example, "sweeter" is the comparative form of "sweet," and "quicker" is the comparative form of "quick."

Table of Contents

  • Examples of Comparatives
  • Degrees of Comparison
  • Forming Comparatives
  • Video Lesson
  • Forming Comparatives (and Superlatives)
  • Why Comparatives Are Important
  • Test Time!

Examples of Comparatives

Here are some examples of comparatives (comparatives shaded):
  • Mark is taller.
  • (taller = comparative of the adjective tall)
  • Mark listens more attentively these days.
  • (more attentively = comparative of the adverb attentively)
  • When you hire people who are smarter than you are, you prove you are smarter than they are. (R H Grant)
  • (smarter = comparative of the adjective smart)
  • Nothing is impossible. Some things are just less likely than others. (Jonathan Winters)
  • (less likely = comparative of the adverb likely)

Degrees of Comparison

This page is about comparatives (also called the "comparative degree" or the "second degree of comparison"), but every adjective or adverb can be written in one of three degrees:
  • The Positive Degree. The positive degree offers no comparison. It just tells us about the existence of a quality (e.g., nice, nicely).
  • The Comparative Degree. The comparative degree (or comparative) compares two things to show which has the lesser or greater degree of the quality (e.g., nicer, more nicely).
  • The Superlative Degree. The superlative degree (or superlative) compares more than two things to show which has the least or greatest degree of the quality (e.g., nicest, most nicely).
comparatives and superlatives
Read more about the 'degrees of comparison' in grammar.

Forming Comparatives

Often, the comparative form of an adjective or adverb can be formed by adding the suffix -er or by placing more (or less) before.

Here are some examples:
ExampleWord TypeFormedComparative
smalladjectiveadd -ersmaller
quicklyadverbprecede with moremore quickly
quicklyadverbprecede with lessless quickly
However, it is a little more complicated than just adding -er or using more. There is more on this to come. Read more about forming the comparatives and superlatives of adjectives.
Read more about forming the comparatives and superlatives of adverbs.

Video Lesson

Here is a short video summarizing the comparative degree. video lesson

Are you a visual learner? Do you prefer video to text? Here is a list of all our grammar videos.

Forming Comparatives (and Superlatives)

It makes sense to learn about comparatives and superlatives at the same time because they are both about making comparisons.

A comparative is known as the second or the middle degree of comparison (for adjectives and adverbs).
A superlative is known as the third or the highest degree of comparison (for adjectives and adverbs).
(or second degree of comparison)
(or third degree of comparison)
When an adjective or an adverb ends with a single consonant, add er or est:
When an adjective or an adverb ends y, drop the y and add ier (for the comparative) and iest (for the superlative):
When an adjective or an adverb ends e, drop the e and add er (for the comparative) and est (for the superlative):
When an adjective or an adverb has more than one syllable (but beware exceptions like silly and early), place more in front (for the comparative) and most in front (for the superlative):
more attractivemost attractive
more angrilymost angrily
There are a few irregular ones too. You just have to learn these. It's worth it. Most of them are very common words:
(adverb and adjective)
(adverb and adjective)
(adverb and adjective)
farther or furtherfarthest or furthest

Why Comparatives Are Important

Below are the three most problematic issues related to comparatives.

(Issue 1) Do not form double comparatives.

The rules for forming a comparative are above. Only apply one of the rules for each adjective or adverb. In other words, do not apply two of the rules. If you do (e.g., by using "more" and adding "-er"), you will form a so-called double comparative, which is a serious grammar error. For example:
  • David is more taller. wrong cross
  • He can run more faster. wrong cross
  • She was more prettier. wrong cross
As a comparative can also be formed by adding the word "less," this mistake can be made with "less" too. For example:
  • David was less smarter than John. wrong cross
Of note, forming double comparatives is far more common in speech than in writing. Read more about double comparatives.

(Issue 2) Use the comparative degree not the superlative degree when comparing two things.

Use a comparative not a superlative when comparing just two things. For example:
  • Of the two, select the most appropriate hat. wrong cross
  • ("More suitable hat" would be correct.)
Often, the number of things being compared isn't known.
  • Janet is the most suitable candidate.
  • (Reading this, we'd assume there were more than two candidates. If there were just two, it should say "more suitable.")
Read more about the superlative degree.

(Issue 3) Be careful with adjectives that already express the highest degree.

Some argue that adjectives like dead and unique already express the quality to the highest degree and therefore should not have a comparative or a superlative form. So, if you write "deader" or "most unique," make sure you can justify it. The following four adjectives attract the most criticism:
  • Dead (Can something be deader or deadest?)
  • Single (Can something be more or most single?)
  • Unique (Can something be more or most unique?)
  • Instantaneous (Can something be more or most instantaneous?)

Key Points

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This page was written by Craig Shrives.