There are three degrees of comparison:
|Useful||More useful||Most useful|
- One-syllable adjectives form their comparative and superlative by adding er and est to the positive form:
Bright brighter brightest
Adjectives ending in e add r and est:
Brave braver bravest
- Adjectives of three or more syllables form their comparative and superlative by putting more and most before the positive:
Interested more interested most interested
Frightening more frightening most frightening
- Adjectives of two syllables follow one or other of the above rules. Those ending in ful or re usually take more and most:
Doubtful more doubtful most doubtful
Obscure more obscure most obscure
Those ending in er, y or ly usually add er, est:
Clever cleverer cleverest
Pretty prettier prettiest (note that the y become i)
Silly sillier silliest
- Irregular comparisons:
Bad worse worst
Far farther farthest (of distance only)
Further furthest (used more widely)
Good better best
Little less least
Many/much more most
Old elder eldest (of people only)
Older oldest (of people and thing).
- Farther/farthest and further/furthest
Both forms can be used of distances:
York is farther/further than Lincoln or Selby.
York is the farthest/furthest town or
York is the farthest/furthest of the three.
(In the last sentence farther/furthest are pronouns). Further can also be used, mainly with abstract nouns, to mean ‘additional/extra’:
Further supplies will soon be available.
Further discussion/debate would be pointless.
Similarly: further enquiries/delays/demands/information/instructions etc.
Furthest can be used similarly, with abstract nouns:
This was the furthest point they reached in their discussion.
This was the furthest concession he would make.
- Far (used for distance) and near
In the comparative and superlative both can be used quite freely:
The farthest/furthest mountain. The nearest river.
But in the positive form they have a limited use.
Far and near are used chiefly with bank, end, side, wall etc.:
The far bank (the bank on the other side)
The near bank (the bank on this side of the river)
Near can also be used with east, and far with north, south, east and west.
With other nouns far is usually replaced by distant/remote and near by nearby/neighbouring: a remote island, the neighbouring village.
- Elder, eldest; older, oldest
Elder, eldest imply seniority rather than age. They are chiefly used for comparisons within a family: my elder brother, her eldest boy/girl; but elder is not used with than, so older is necessary here:
He is older than I am. (elder would not be possible).
In colloquial English eldest, oldest and youngest are often used of only two boys/girls/children etc.:
His eldest boy’s at school; the other is still at home.
This is particularly common when eldest, oldest are used as pronouns:
Tom is the eldest, (of the two)
CONSTRUCTIONS WITH COMPARISONS
- With the positive form of the adjective, we use as . . . as in the affirmative and not sa/not so . . . as in the negative:
A boy ofsixteen is often as tall as his father.
He was as white as a sheet.
Manslaughter is not as/so bad as murder.
Your coffee is not as/so good as the coffee my mother makes.
- With the comparative we use than:
The new tower blocks are much higher than the old buildings.
He makes fewer mistakes than you (do).
He is stronger than I expected =
I didn’t expect him to be so strong.
It was more expensive than I thought =
I didn’t think it would be so expansive.
When than . . . is omitted, it is very common in colloquial English to use a superlative instead of a comparative: This is the best way could be said when there are only two ways.
- Comparison of three or more people/things is expressed by the superlative with the . . . . in/of:
This is the oldest theatre in London.
The youngest of the family was the most successful.
A relative clause is useful especially with a perfect tense:
It/this is the best beer (that) I have ever drunk.
It/this was the worst film (that) he had ever seen.
He is the kindest man (that) I have ever met.
It was the most worrying day (that) he had ever spent.
Note that ever is use here, not never. We can, however, express the same idea with never and a comparative:
I have never drunk better beer. I have never met a kinder man.
He had never spent a more worrying day.
Note that most + adjective, without the, means very:
You are most kind means you are very kind.
Most meaning very is used mainly with adjectives of two or more syllables: annoying, apologetic, disobedient, encouraging, exciting, helpful, important, misleading etc.
- Parallel increase is expressed by the + comparative . . . the + comparative:
HOUSE AGENT: do you want abig house?
ANN: Yes, the bigger the better.
TOM: but the smaller it is, the less it will cost us to heat.
- Gradual increase or decrease is expressed by two comparatives joined by and:
The weather is getting colder and colder.
He became less and less interested.
- Comparison of actions with gerunds or infinitives:
Riding a horse is not as easy as riding a motor cycle.
It is nicer/more fun to go with someone than to go alone…
- Comparisons with like (preposition) and alike:
Tom is very like Bill. Bill and Tom are very alike.
He keeps the central heating full on. It’s like living in the tropics.
- Comparisons with like and as (both adverb and adjective expressions are shown here).
In theory like (preposition) is used only with noun, pronoun or gerund:
He swims like a fish. You look like a ghost.
Be like Peter/him: go jogging.
The windows were all barred. It was like being in prison.
And as (conjunction) is used when there is a finite verb:
Do as Peter does: go jogging.
Why don’t you cycle to work as we do?
But in colloquial English like is often used here instead of as:
Cycle to work like we do.
- Like + noun and as + noun:
He worked like a slave. (very hard indeed).
He worked as a slave. (he was a slave).
She used her umbrella as a weapon. (She struck him with it).