How to Change Degree (comparative & superlative) in English.

How do you compare one thing to another in English? What if you want to explain how something is better than all the rest? In English, this is pretty easy to do. We call a word which compares the properties of two things “the comparative”. If we want to talk about how something is the best of all, we call that “the superlative”.

The comparative is usually formed by adding -er to the end of an adjective.

  • cold + -er = colder
    • Snow is colder than rain.

The superlative is usually formed by adding -est to an adjective.

  • cold + -est = coldest
    • Antarctica is the coldest place on Earth.

This is the most basic way of forming these categories in English. You can form most comparative adjectives in English by adding an -er to the end of it. Likewise, you can form most superlative adjectives in English by adding -est to the end.

However, like almost everything in English, there are exceptions to this. Let’s take a look at some of those now.

Doubling up

Some words cannot simply take -er or -est without changing the word slightly. In some words, you need to double the last letter of the word before adding -er to its end.

A general rule for when you need to do this is when the adjective is one syllable and ends in a p, t, or g.

  • big + -er = bigger
  • fat + -er = fatter
  • hot + -er = hotter
  • hip + -er = hipper (this is a slang word for cool.)

Y to I

Another situation where the form of the word changes is when you add on an ending to a word which ends with Y. In this situation, you change the Y into an I and then add the ending afterwards.

  • sticky + -er = stickier
  • sticky + -est = stickiest
  • plushy + -er = plushier
  • plushy + -est = plushiest
  • creamy + -er = creamier
  • creamy + -est = creamiest

More and Most

There are, however, words which cannot accept the -er and -est endings. All of the adjectives we have looked at so far have been between 1 and 2 syllables. Two syllables is the limit for a word which can accept the comparative and superlative endings on them.

When we want to make a word with three or more syllables comparative or superlative, we have to use the words “more” and “most”.

We use the word “more” when we want to make a 3+ syllable adjective comparative.

  • creative + -er = creativer.
  • creative + more = more creative

The same is true for any adjective that you want to make comparative when it has three or more syllables.

  • wonderful + more = more wonderful
  • rambunctious + more = more rambunctious
  • turbulent + more = more turbulent
  • demonstrable + more = more demonstrable

A similar idea is behind making 3+ syllable adjectives into the superlative. When we want to do this, we have to use the word “most” instead of attaching -est to the end of the word.

  • creative + -est = creativest.
  • creative + most = most creative

This is exactly the same as the situation above. The superlative cannot be formed with these types of words without using the word “most”.

  • wonderful + most = most wonderful
  • rambunctious + most = most rambunctious
  • turbulent + most = most turbulent
  • demonstrable + most = most demonstrable.

Exceptions

As with many things in English, there is an exception to these rules too. Some single syllable words in English are unable to take -er and -est on their endings. With these words, we must use “more” and “most” to form the comparative and superlative. Here is a list of some of these words:

  • fun
  • right
  • wrong
  • real
  • like (similar to)

So, for example, the word “fun” cannot be made comparative by funner nor can it be made superlative by funnest. The proper way to write the comparative and superlative for this word would be:

  • more fun
  • most fun

It’s the same for all the words in the list above.

  • right – more right – most right
  • wrong – more wrong – most wrong
  • real – more real – most real
  • like – more like – most like

Past Participles

If an adjective is created by using a word’s past participle, you must use more and most in this situation too.

  • bored – more bored – most bored
  • liked – more liked – most liked
  • known – more known – most known
  • burnt – more burnt – most burnt

Qualifiers

Another tactic you can use to change the degree of a word is to attach a qualifier to it. Qualifiers specify the degree of the word they attach to. An example of a common qualifier is the word “very”.

Qualifiers can be used to give you more granular control over the degree of your expressions. You can use them to qualify the amount or intensity of your meaning.

Here is a list of some common qualifiers:

quiterathersomewhat
morelessmost
leasttooso
juststillalmost
a lotprettyfairly
reallyevena bit
completelyabsolutelyincredibly

There are many more words that you can use as qualifiers to specify the degree of a word that you use. They are used similarly to adjectives and adverbs; you attach them to the left side of the word you use them with.

  • I completely agree.
  • That was quite fun.
  • It was a bit boring.
  • That was incredibly rude.

Conclusion

That was a look at the ways you can change the degree of a word in English. We do this when we want to compare things in English as well as when we want to specify the amount of a quality or feeling.

Many of the most common words in English can be transformed into the comparative and superlative by attaching -er and -est to the end of the word. However, this is not true for every degree word in English as we have seen.

Kyle Sutherland
Kyle is an IELTS Instructor living in Tokyo, Japan. He has worked with IELTS candidates to reach their goals for over 5 years. He graduated from the University of Toronto with a degree in English Language Linguistics and holds numerous TESOL certifications. He spends his spare time with friends or learning languages such as: Japanese, German, and Latin.
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