Degree of Comparison

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What Are the Degrees of Comparison? (with Examples)

In grammar, the degrees of comparison relate to adjectives and adverbs.

Every adjective and adverb can be written in one of three degrees:

  • The Positive Degree. This offers no comparison. It just tells us about the existence of a quality. For example:
    • adjectives: slow, beautiful, happy
    • adverbs: slowly, beautifully, happily
  • The Comparative Degree. This compares two things to show which has the lesser or greater degree of the quality. For example:
    • adjectives: slower, more beautiful, happier
    • adverbs: more slowly, more beautifully, more happily
  • The Superlative Degree. This compares more than two things to show which has the least or greatest degree of the quality.For example:
    • adjectives: slowest, most beautiful, happiest
    • adverbs: most slowly, most beautifully, most happily

Easy Examples of Degrees of Comparison

Here is the adjective “hungry” in all three degrees of comparison:

  • Lee is hungry. (positive degree)
  • Lee is hungrier than Mark. (comparative degree)
  • Lee is the hungriest of all. (superlative degree)

Here is the adverb “dangerously” in all three degrees of comparison:

  • Lee played dangerously today. (positive degree)
  • Lee played more dangerously than Mark. (comparative degree)
  • Lee played most dangerously. (superlative degree)

Real-Life Examples of Degrees of Comparison

Here’s the adjective “ugly” in all three degrees of comparison.

      • I may be drunk, Miss, but in the morning, I will be sober and you will still be ugly. (Winston Churchill)

    (

Ugly

      •  is in the positive degree. It offers no comparison.)

      • At the age of 18, children are thrust into the real world and shown its uglier side, but not before. (Australian author Margo Lanagan)

    (

Uglier

    •  is in the comparative degree, describing adulthood as having the trait

ugly

      •  to a greater degree than childhood.)

      • Last week, I stated that this woman was the ugliest woman I had ever seen. I have since been visited by her sister and now wish to withdraw that statement. (Writer Mark Twain)

    (

Ugliest

    •  is in the superlative degree, describing the woman as having the trait

ugly

     to the greatest degree of all.)

Here is the adverb “beautifully” in all three degrees of comparison:

      • Making money is a hobby that will complement any other hobbies you have beautifully. (Businessman Scott Alexander)
      • This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before. (Composer Leonard Bernstein)

    (

More beautifully

    •  (the comparative degree) tells us how music will be made compared to the past; i.e., it’s a comparison of

two

      •  things.)

      • Palermo is the most beautifully situated town in the world – it dreams away its life in the Conca d’Oro, the exquisite valley that lies between two seas. (Playwright Oscar Wilde)

    (

Most beautifully

    •  (the superlative degree) tells us that Palermo trumps every other town for its location; i.e., it’s a comparison of

more than two

     things.)

Forming the Comparative and Superlative Degrees

Here are the rules for forming the comparative and superlative degrees of adjectives:

Type of Adjective Example in the Positive Degree How to Form the Comparative Degree How to Form the Superlative Degree
one syllable
  • strong
add er

  • stronger
add est

  • strongest
one syllable ending vowel consonant
  • thin
double consonant and add er

  • thinner
double consonant and add est

  • thinnest
more than one syllable
  • famous
add less or more

  • more famous
add most or least

  • least famous
more than one syllable ending y
  • silly
remove y add ier

  • sillier

for less

  • less silly
remove y add iest

  • silliest

for least
least silly

irregular
  • bad
  • good
  • many
no rules

  • worse
  • better
  • more
no rules

  • worst
  • best
  • most

Here are the rules for forming the comparative and superlative degrees of adverbs:

Type of Adverb Example in the Positive Degree How to Form the Comparative How to Form the Superlative
one syllable
  • fast
add er

  • faster
add est

  • fastest
more than one syllable
  • carefully
add less or more

  • more carefully
add most or least

  • most carefully
irregular
  • badly
  • well
no rules

  • worse
  • better
no rules

  • worst
  • best

Why Should I Care about Degree?

If you’re planning on learning a foreign language, then knowing the terms comparative and superlative is a useful starting point for learning their rules for forming them. That aside, here are five noteworthy issues related to degree.

(Issue 1) Double comparatives and double superlatives are serious grammar mistakes.

Don’t apply two rules for forming a comparative or a superlative.

  • You get more sillier as the night goes on. 
  • She can run most fastest

These grammar errors are called double comparatives or double superlatives. They are more common in speech than in writing. When spoken, they can be dismissed as a slip of the tongue. However, if you use one in writing, you’re toast. Credibility shot.

(Issue 2) Use the comparative degree not the superlative degree when comparing two things.

A common mistake is using the superlative degree when comparing just two things. (That’s when you should use the comparative degree.)

      • Of the two, she is the most suitable candidate. 

    (More suitable candidate would be correct.)

      • I call white the most powerful non-colour; it’s clean, optimistic and powerful.  (Artist Jason Wu)

    (When I found this quotation I wanted the non-colours to be just black and white, meaning

more powerful

     would have been correct. It turns out the non-colours include all the greys as well. So, Wu’s quotation is correct. Gutted.)

Often, the number of things being compared isn’t known.

    • She is the most suitable candidate.

(Reading this, we’d assume there were more than two candidates. If there were just two, it should say “more suitable.”)