Comparatives and superlatives are used for comparing things (e.g., saying something is “better” than something else or picking out the “best” thing from a group). But how exactly do these words work? And how do you avoid errors when using them? Let us explain.
The comparative “bigger” here shows that we’re comparing the size of two houses. We use superlatives, meanwhile, to show that something has the most or highest degree of some quality. However, this only applies when discussing a group of at least three things:
She has the biggest house in the neighborhood.
Here, for instance, we’re discussing the entire neighborhood, and we use the superlative “biggest” because there may be many houses in a neighborhood.
Forming Comparatives and Superlatives
As with “bigger” and “biggest” above, many comparatives end “-er” and many superlatives end “-est.” This spelling is used when forming a comparative or superlative from either of the following:
All single-syllable words (e.g., small → smaller → smallest)
Most two-syllable terms (e.g., happy → happier → happiest)
In other cases, though, we form comparatives and superlatives by adding the words “more” or “most” before an adjective or adverb. This is most commonly applied when the base term is:
Two syllables long and ends “-ful,” “-ous,” or “-less” (e.g., famous → more famous → most famous)
Three or more syllables long (e.g., slowly → more slowly → most slowly)
Some two-syllable words can use either approach (e.g., you can say either “more narrow” or “narrower”). However, “-er” and “-est” endings are more concise and often preferable.
Irregular Comparatives and Superlatives
Not every comparative or superlative follows the patterns above. We also have some irregular terms, which include common words such as “better” and “best.” These particular terms are the comparative and superlative forms of “good” and “well” (hence we don’t say “gooder” or “goodest”).
Key irregular comparatives and superlatives to remember include:
As you can see, these terms don’t follow any specific pattern. The best way to avoid errors is therefore to memorize their comparative and superlative forms. And if you’d like any help ensuring that you’ve used comparatives and superlatives correctly in your writing, just let us know.
Find this useful?
Subscribe to our newsletter and get writing tips from our editors straight to your inbox.