Degree of comparison

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In English, adjectives and adverbs have three degrees of comparison:

  • the positive, for example big
  • the comparative (bigger)
  • the superlative (biggest).

In general, words of one or two syllables take the suffixes -er and -est. Longer words and adverbs ending in -ly form degrees of comparison as phrases: "brilliant, more brilliant, most brilliant".

A grammatical accuracy much respected by academics is to use the comparative form when comparing two; and, for more than two, the superlative. Practical examples:

  • 'She is bigger than her brother' (the comparative, to compare two children), but 'She is the biggest in the family' (the superlative. This is correct as long as there are more than two.)
  • 'Both candidates are able, but X works harder' (comparative); but 'He is the hardest working in the class' and 'I like apples better than pears, but I like oranges best of all'.

See also comparisons, and comparisons - grammar, and for a note on the spelling of comparative, comparative (spelling).