Without adjectives, nouns can be somewhat lackluster. A ‘glass of water’ becomes more vivid if it’s a ‘refreshing glass of water.’
There’s a whole extra layer to the use of adjectives, though. These additional words are instrumental when comparing two or more things.
In daily life, we spend a lot of time comparing things to others. Using the correct English grammar is vital in these instances to ensure you’re getting the correct message across.
How Does This Work?
Let’s return to the glass of water. It’s refreshing because it’s colder than the other glass of water sitting in the warm room.
The adjective ‘cold’ – becomes colder, showing a difference in quality between the two glasses. This grammatical structure is known as a comparative adjective.
Taking things one step further, if it’s the most exemplary of its kind, then it’s the ‘coldest glass of water,’ and nothing is as equal or better. Changing the word like this is called a superlative adjective.
So how do you use these effectively? Let’s find out.
A comparative is used to compare the difference between two nouns. If you wish to express a superior quality, size, or characteristic, you need to emphasize your subject noun is ‘more’ than your object noun. Conversely, if you wish to indicate inferior qualities, you’ll use ‘less.’
There are four ways to use comparative adjectives. How you form them usually depends on the number of syllables in the adjective.
One Syllable: Add -er
Single syllable adjectives such as tall, short, small, light, are converted to comparatives by simply adding -er to the end of the word:
- Henry is taller than Shane.
- A mouse is smaller than an elephant.
- Feathers are lighter than stones.
An exception to this is if the adjective ends in a vowel and a consonant (big, thin, fat.) Now you should double the last letter before adding -er:
- Mary is fatter than Jenny.
- Dubai is hotter than Moscow.
- Paper is thinner than wood.
Two or More Syllables: More or Less
If the adjective has two or more syllables (and doesn’t end in -y) simply add more or less (as appropriate) in front of the base adjective:
- Science is more interesting than math.
- Pizza is less healthy than salad.
See how the adjective remains unchanged?
Two Syllables With -y as the Second Syllable
When you have an adjective that ends in a consonant and a -y (mighty, friendly, heavy), you should change the -y to -i before adding the -er:
- Glass is heavier than plastic.
- Dogs are friendlier than cats.
- The pen is mightier than the sword.
Like most aspects of English grammar, there are exceptions, and comparative adjectives have four that you should know.
- Good – better
- Bad – worse
- Far – farther (US), further (UK)
- Fun – fun
Let’s look at some examples.
- Sleeping in is better than waking up early.
- Going to work is worse than taking a vacation.
- New York is farther than Los Angeles from Las Vegas.
- Playing football is more fun than watching it.
Don’t Forget the ‘Than’
The one constant in all the examples above is the inclusion of the word ‘than’ in each sentence. The reason for this is to indicate you are comparing two things.
The purpose of superlative adjectives is to show something is the best (or worst) of a group of nouns. The rules are similar to comparatives and also based on the number of syllables.
One Syllable: Add -est
Single syllable adjectives such as tall, short, small, light, are converted to superlatives by simply adding ‘the’ and -est to the end of the word:
- Jack is the tallest student in the class.
- The fairyfly is the smallest insect known in nature.
- Singapore to Newark is the longest flight in the world.
Two or More Syllables: Most or Least
If the adjective has two or more syllables (and doesn’t end in -y) then you should add ‘the most’ or ‘the least’ (as appropriate) in front:
- Einstein is the most intelligent man in history.
- Vatican City is the least populated city in the world.
- In these cases, like with comparatives, the adjective remains in its base form.
Two Syllables With -y as the Second Syllable
When you have an adjective that ends in a consonant and a -y (mighty, friendly, heavy), change the -y to -i, before adding ‘the’ and -est:
- Hassium is the heaviest chemical element.
- Dogs are the friendliest of all pets.
Once again, there are four exceptions to these rules:
- Good – best
- Bad – worst
- Far – farthest (US), furthest (UK)
- Fun – fun
Let’s look at some examples again.
- Skydiving was the best experience.
- Boiled cabbage is the worst food.
- Pluto is the farthest planet from the sun.
- Riding a rollercoaster is the most fun.
Superlatives and Present Perfect
Another way of using superlatives is to combine them with the present perfect tense. Using the examples above, you can make the sentence clearer by indicating ‘ever.’ Remember the rules of present perfect, ‘have/has,’ and past participle (verb 3).
- Skydiving was the best experience I’ve ever had.
- Boiled cabbage is the worst food Mary has ever eaten.
- Riding a rollercoaster is the most fun Jeremy has ever experienced.
One Final Way to Compare
English is a notoriously tricky language, and there are often many ways of saying the same thing. Comparisons are no different. For example, if you wrap the adjective in ‘as…as’ or ‘not as… as,’ this is another way to indicate similarities or differences.
- Brian is as tall as Michal.
- Betty is not as pretty as Sara.
In these instances, like with -er and -est, the adjective remains in its base form.
The Final Word
When used correctly, comparative adjectives can highlight qualitative differences, and superlative adjectives can underscore your chosen noun’s highest quality or degree.
By understanding the rules and applying them to your writing, you’ll get your message across more clearly and effectively.
Comparatives are for comparing two things, whereas superlatives indicate the top or bottom range of a number of people or things. Combining superlatives with present perfect helps to show the best or worst ever.