Making comparisons

Comparisons with adjectives

Most 1-syllabled adjectives take the endings -er and -est to show degrees of comparison:

kind  →  kinder  →  kindest

nice  →  nicer  →  nicest

true  →  truer  →  truest

Some 2-syllabled adjectives use -er and -est, and some add more or most before the adjective instead:

  • adjectives ending in -y mostly use -er and -est

easy  →  easier  →  easiest

healthy  →  healthier   →  healthiest

pretty  →  prettier  →  prettiest

  • adjectives ending in -le use either construction
humble  →  humbler  →  humblest    or    humble  →  more humble  →  most humble

simple  →  simpler  →  simplest    or    simple  →  more simple  →  most simple

  • other adjectives of 2 or more syllables usually use more/most

helpful  →  more helpful  →  most helpful

attractive  →  more attractive  →  most attractive

Did you know? The 2 types of adjective comparison (with -er/-est and with more/most) should not be used side by side. Yet people sometimes do it for emphasis when speaking (eg the last words of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar: This was the most unkindest cut of all).

Comparisons with adverbs

Adverbs formed with -ly are compared using more and most. Adverbs with just 1 syllable use er/-est:

The podcast explains it more simply than the book.

The judge responded most graciously.

They rowed faster than ever before.

The aurora shines brightest in the early spring.

Providing the basis of a comparison

If you are making a comparison – saying that something is better, taller, cooler than another thing – ensure that the basis of comparison is either included in the sentence itself or can be deduced from the context. Otherwise, the reader is left saying ‘better than what?’ ‘taller than whom?’ etc:

This was better than the previous approach.

He was easy to identify. He was the tallest man there.

The appointee was more experienced than the other candidates.

Compared with or compared to

Compared with is used when comparing differences between things, whereas compared to is used to indicate a likeness between the two:

Compared with Vermeer, his works were crude. [expresses a difference]

His paintings could be compared to those of Vermeer. [expresses a likeness; compare to could be replaced by liken to]

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