Comparative and Superlative Adjectives in English Grammar

What are comparatives and superlatives?

Comparative adjectives (bigger, better, stronger …) compare two people, places or things.

Example:
Russia, China and Canada are big countries. (basic adjective)
Canada is bigger than China. (comparative adjective)

Superlative adjectives (the biggest, the best, the strongest …) compare people, places or things against all others in the same group or category. The superlative expresses the highest degree of something.

Example:
Russia is the biggest country in the world. (superlative adjective)

In addition to comparative and superlative adjectives, we can also make comparisons using basic adjectives with structures like as … as and less … than.

Learn the rules for forming comparative and superlative adjectives in English grammar, then put your knowledge to the test in the exercises.

Example

Russia, China and Canada are big countries.

Canada is bigger than China.

But Canada is not as big as Russia.

Russia is the biggest country in the world.

Canada and Russia are less populated than China.

China is the most populated country in the world.

How to form comparative and superlative adjectives

The comparative and superlative forms of an adjective depend on its number of syllables and/or its final letters.

Check out the table below to learn how to make comparative and superlative adjectives from the basic form:

Type of Adjective Basic Form Comparative Superlative Rule
one-syllable clean cleaner the cleanest add -er/-est
one-syllable ending in -e nice nicer the nicest add -r/-st
one-syllable ending in vowel + consonant hot hotter the hottest double the final consonant then add -er/-est
two-syllable ending in -y easy easier the easiest remove -y and add -ier/-iest
multi-syllable difficult more difficult the most difficult more/the most + basic adjective

The superlative is almost always introduced by the:

Example:
Antarctica is the coldest place on earth.
not: Antarctica is coldest place on earth.

But we omit the when the superlative is introduced by a noun or pronoun.

Example:
Sydney is Australia’s largest city.
Ellen is my best friend.

Special cases & exceptions

Some adjectives do not follow the rules when they build their comparative and superlative forms:

Irregular comparatives & superlatives

A handful of adjectives have completely irregular comparative and superlative forms:

Basic Adjective Comparative Superlative
bad worse the worst
far further/farther* the furthest/the farthest*
good better the best
little less the least
much/many more the most

*Further or farther?

When we talk about distance, both further/farther are possible. However, when we mean extra or additional, we can only use further.

Examples:
Newcastle is further/farther north than York.
but: If you need further information, please get in touch.
not: farther information

One-syllable adjectives ending in -ed

Unlike other one-syllable adjectives, those that end in -ed form their comparative and superlative forms with more/the most, not with -er/-est.

Examples:
bored – more bored – the most bored
not: boreder – boredest
scared – more scared – the most scared
not: scareder – scaredest

Adjectives with two comparative and superlative forms

Some adjectives have two forms in the comparative and superlative: one with -er/-est and one with more/the most. These are usually adjectives that end in an unstressed vowel.

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

Other such adjectives include: polite, narrow, quiet, shallow, simple …

Older vs. elder

The adjective old has two possible forms in the comparative and superlative:

Example:
old – older/elder – the oldest/the eldest

We can use older/the oldest in all contexts.

Examples:
Diane is my older sister.
She is older than me.
The church is the oldest building in town.

In contrast, we only use elder/the eldest as attributive adjectives (placed directly before a noun) to refer to people, usually in the context of family relationships.

Examples:
Diane is my elder sister.
She is the eldest child in the family.

This means that we can only use older and not elder in comparisons with than, nor can we use elder/the eldest to refer to places, concepts or things.

Examples:
Diane is my older/elder sister. She’s the oldest/eldest child in the family.
but: Diane is older than me.
not: Diane is elder than me.
The church is the oldest building in town.
not: The church is the eldest building in town.

Using comparatives in a sentence

When we compare two things, we use the connector than.

Example:
Canada is bigger than China.

Pronouns after than

When a pronoun follows than, we usually use an object pronoun (me, you, him, her, us, them):

Examples:
Paul is older than her.
Soraya is taller than him.

In formal situations, we can use than + subject pronoun (I, you, he, she, we, they) + help verb. The help verb changes according to the verb and the tense.

Examples:
Paul is older than she is.
Soraya looks younger than he does.
Jenny was more helpful than you were.

Remember: a subject pronoun cannot stand alone after than.

Examples:
Paul is older than she is.
not: Paul is older than she.

Comparatives with the … the

To show that two things have a parallel relationship or that one thing depends on another, we use the structure the + comparative, the + comparative. This appears in many common sayings:

Examples:
The sooner, the better.
The more, the merrier.

Using superlatives in a sentence

Superlatives and prepositions

Superlative adjectives are often followed by a preposition:

  • use of before time periods and plural nouns
Examples:
It was the most popular book of the year.
Bella is the most helpful of my colleagues.
  • use in before places and singular nouns that refer to groups
Examples:
The cafe is the best in town.
This is the most valuable piece in his collection.
  • use on with the nouns team and earth
Examples:
Sophie is the best player on the team.
It’s the most expensive substance on earth.

Superlatives and the present perfect

Superlative adjectives often appear in sentences with the present perfect simple.

Examples:
Thailand is the furthest I’ve travelled.
It’s the most interesting place I’ve visited.

We can use ever for emphasis.

Example:
It’s the most interesting place I’ve ever visited.

Although we can place that between the superlative and the present perfect, this is usually omitted in everyday language.

Example:
It’s the most interesting place that I’ve ever visited.

Comparisons with basic adjectives

We can also make comparisons using the basic form of the adjective rather than the comparative.

Comparisons with as … as

To say that two things are the same, we can use (just) as … as.

Examples:
Today, a large coffee is (just) as cheap as a small.
= they are the same price

To say that two things are different, we use not as … as.

Example:
Normally, a large coffee is not as cheap as a small.

Remember: we use the basic form of the adjective after as, not the comparative form.

Example:
Today, a large coffee is just as cheap as a small.
not: just as cheaper as

If a pronoun follows as, we use the same rules as with than (see above).

Example:
Mark is just as tall as Jessica. = Mark is just as tall as her / she is.

Comparisons with less … than

With multi-syllable adjectives, we can use less … than instead of not as … as.

Example:
The film is less complicated than the book.
= The film is not as complicated as the book.

However: we can’t use less … than with one-syllable adjectives.

Example:
The film is not as long as the book.
not: The film is less long than the book.