Comparative and Superlative Adjectives in English Grammar

Introduction

Comparative adjectives, such as bigger or better, compare two nouns. We can use them to express that a person or thing has less or more of something. Superlative adjectives, such as biggest or best, compare one person or thing against a whole group. We can use superlatives to express that a noun has more of something than everything else in that group. Regular comparative and superlative adjectives are formed with the suffixes -er/est or the adverbs more/most. The irregular forms have to be learnt by heart.

Learn the rules for forming comparative and superlative adjective in English grammar and get tips on how and when to use them. Then put your knowledge to the test in the interactive exercises.

Example

This clown’s funny. He’s the funniest clown I have ever seen.

The clown’s got a big nose. His nose is much bigger than mine.

Advertisement

Usage

Adjectives describe nouns.

Example:
This clown is funny.
The clown has got a big nose.

Adjectives also have comparative forms.

Example:
His nose is much bigger than mine. (comparative)
He is the funniest clown I have ever seen. (superlative)

Adjective Order

We use adjectives before nouns and after the verb be. We can use more than one adjective to describe things.

  • We usually put opinion adjectives (beautiful, funny, nice, ugly etc.) before fact adjectives (small, young, pink, plastic etc.).
    Example:
    The clown has an ugly red nose.
  • Sometimes we use more than one fact adjective. We usually put fact adjectives in the same order.
    Example:
    The clown has a big red plastic nose. (not: The clown has a red plastic big nose.)

The table shows you the correct order for adjectives.

OpinionSize and ShapeAgeColourOriginMaterialNoun
funny old American clown
round red plastic nose
beautiful slim young Irish man
tall green Japanese trees

Comparisons with basic adjectives

An adjective’s basic form is used for simple description of nouns, and also in comparisons using the phrases as ... as.

  • simple description of nouns
    Example:
    The clown is funny.
  • as … as
    Example:
    You are as funny as the clown.
    I know as many jokes as the clown.
  • not as … as / not so … as
    Example:
    I am not as funny as the clown.
    I am not wearing as much make-up as the clown.
  • less … than
    Example:
    I am less funny than the clown.

Formation of English Comparative and Superlative Adjectives

Comparative using er/est

We form the comparative adjectives of most single and two-syllable adjectives by adding the suffix -er. The Superlative form is constructed with the suffix -est.The table below provides an overview of single and two-syllable adjectives in the basic, comparative and superlative form.

basic formcomparativesuperlative
all single-syllable adjectives clean cleaner the cleanest
two-syllable adjectives that end in y easy easier the easiest

Exceptions when adding er/est

  • We add -r/-st to to adjectives that end in -e.
    Example:
    late – later – the latest (not: lateer– the lateest)
  • A -y at the end of an adjective becomes an -i.
    Example:
    easy – easier – the easiest
  • The final consonant is doubled in adjectives that end with a consonant after a short stressed vowel.
    Example:
    hot – hotter – the hottest

Comparative using more and most

The comparative form of multi-syllable adjectives is constructed with more and the basic form of the adjective. Whilst the superlative form is constructed with most and the basic form of the adjective. The table below provides an overview of multi-syllable adjectives in the basic, comparative and superlative form.

basic formcomparativesuperlative
all multi-syllable adjectives
(except two-syllable ones ending in -y/-er)
difficult more difficult the most difficult

Comparative using er/est or more/most

Some two-syllable adjectives can be formed with either -er/-est or more/most. Theses include primarily two-syllable adjectives that end in -er.

Example:
clever – cleverer – the cleverest
clever – more clever – the most clever

Table: Irregular Comparative Forms of Adjectives

The table below lists the most common irregualr comparative and superlative adjectives.

adjectivecomparativesuperlative
good better the best
bad/ill worse the worst
little (few) less the least
little (small) smaller the smallest
much/many more the most
far (in space or time) further the furthest
far (in space) farther the farthest

Adjectives That Can't Be Compared

Some adjectives are gradable and some are non-gradable.

  • We can modify gradable adjectives to express different levels.
    Example:
    The clown yesterday was funny, but the clown on TV is funnier and the one from last week was the funniest.
  • Non-gradable or extreme adjectives do not have a comparative or superlative form because they mean very funny, very big etc. Or because they express something which cannot be graded dead or pregnant.
    Example:
    The clown is hilarious (very funny). not: The clown is more hilarious than you.
    The clown has a huge (very big) red nose. not: The clown has the hugest red nose.
    I think the clown is pregnant. not: The clown is more pregnant than yesterday.

Some common extreme adjectives include: empty, full, alive, dead, pregnant, perfect, unique, round, square, awful, excellent, terrible, horrible, chemical, digital, domestic, immortal, starving, brilliant, gigantic, ultimate, ancient, complete etc.