What Is the Positive Degree (with Examples)

by Craig Shrives

Positive Degree

"Positive degree" is a term that relates to adjectives and adverbs. An adjective or adverb that does not make a comparison is said to be in the positive degree. (In other words, the "positive degree" is the normal form of an adjective or adverb.)

In English, there are three degrees of comparison:
  • The Positive Degree. The positive degree of an adjective or adverb offers no comparison. For example:
    • adjectives: rich, pretty, handsome, good
    • adverbs: slowly, beautifully
  • The Comparative Degree. The comparative degree of an adjective or adverb shows the greater or lesser degree. For example:
    • adjectives: richer, prettier, more handsome, better
    • adverbs: more slowly, more beautifully
  • The Superlative Degree. The superlative degree of an adjective or adverb shows the greatest or least degree. For example:
    • adjectives: richest, prettiest, most handsome, best
    • adverbs: most slowly, most beautifully
Read more about forming the comparative and superlative degrees of adjectives.
Read more about forming the comparative and superlative degrees of adverbs.

positive degree

The Three Degrees of Comparison

The table below offers some more examples of the three degrees of comparison.
Positive DegreeComparative DegreeSuperlative Degree
sharp
(adjective)
sharpersharpest
happy
(adjective)
happierhappiest
precise
(adjective)
more precisemost precise
fast
(adverb)
fasterfastest
merrily
(adverb)
more merrily most merrily
badly
(adverb)
worseworst

Don't Forget the Lesser and Least Degrees

Remember that, as well as showing the more and most degrees, the comparative and superlative degrees show the less and least degrees too. Therefore, the table above ought to look more like this:
Positive DegreeComparative DegreeSuperlative Degree
sharp
(adjective)
sharper
less sharp (or blunter)
sharpest
least sharp (or bluntest)
happy
(adjective)
happier
less happy (or sadder)
happiest
least happy (or saddest)
precise
(adjective)
more precise
less precise
most precise
least precise
fast
(adverb)
faster
slower (or, possibly, less fast)
fastest
slowest (or, possibly, least fast)
merrily
(adverb)
more merrily
less merrily
most merrily
least merrily
badly
(adverb)
worseworst

Why Should I Care about the Positive Degree?

The positive degree is the normal form of an adjective or adverb, and, as such, it is not responsible for causing many writing errors. Most of the writing errors related to the degrees of comparison are associated with the comparative degree and the superlative degree. Here are two common ones:

(Issue 1) Don't form a double comparative or a double superlative.

  • He is more smarter than me.
Read more about double comparatives and double superlatives.

(Issue 2) Don't use the comparative degree when comparing more than two things.

  • Out of Jack, Jill, and Peter, Jill is the smarter.
Read more about the issues linked to the degrees of the comparison.

...Back to the Positive Degree

Below are two tips related to adjectives and adverbs in the positive degree.

(Tip 1) Don't use an adverb that ends "-ly." Choose better words for your sentence.

  • She looked at her rival angrily.
  • She glared at her rival.
Read more about avoiding adverbs ending -ly (see Issue 1).

(Tip 2) Don't use an adverb like "extremely" and "very" before an adjective. Choose better adjectives.

  • She was very angry.
  • She was livid.
Read more about this issue on the limiting modifiers page.
Interactive Exercise
Here are three randomly selected questions from a larger exercise, which can be edited, printed to create an exercise worksheet, or sent via email to friends or students.

See Also

What is a double comparative? More about the comparative and superlative degrees of adjectives More about the comparative and superlative degrees of adverbs Glossary of grammatical terms