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Forming Comparative and Superlative Adjectives: Morphological, Spelling, and Pronunciation Changes

written by: Heather Marie Kosur • edited by: Tricia Goss • updated: 1/20/2012

Prototypical English adjectives express three degrees of modification: positive, comparative, and superlative. The following article lists and explains the rules for forming the comparative and superlative forms of adjectives in the English language.

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    English Adjectives

    In English, adjectives decline for three degrees of modification: positive, comparative, and superlative. Learn the rules for spelling and pronouncing the comparative and superlative forms of English adjectives in the following sections.

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    Single Syllable Adjectives

    For one-syllable adjectives spelled with a final consonant preceded by either two vowels or additional consonants, simply add the -er or -est suffix. For example:

    • cold – colder – coldest
    • deep – deeper – deepest
    • fast – faster – fastest
    • lean – leaner – leanest

    For one-syllable adjectives spelled with a final y or w preceded by a vowel, simply add the -er or -est suffix. For example:

    • gay – gayer – gayest
    • low – lower – lowest
    • new – newer – newest
    • slow – slower – slowest

    For one-syllable adjectives spelled with a final consonant preceded by a single vowel, double the final consonant and add the -er or -est suffix. For example:

    • big – bigger – biggest
    • fat – fatter – fattest
    • hot – hotter – hottest
    • sad – sadder – saddest

    For one-syllable adjectives spelled with a final e preceded by a consonant, remove the e and then add the -er or -est suffix. For example:

    • cute – cuter – cutest
    • fine – finer – finest
    • nice – nicer – nicest
    • wide – wider – widest
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    -y, -le, and -er Adjectives

    For one- or two-syllable adjectives spelled with a final y preceded by a consonant, change the y to an i and then add the -er or -est suffix. For example:

    • burly – burlier – burliest
    • dry – drier – driest
    • sassy – sassier – sassiest
    • ugly – uglier – ugliest

    For two-syllable adjectives spelled with a final le, remove the e and then add the -er or -est suffix. For example:

    • gentle – gentler – gentlest
    • humble – humbler – humblest
    • little – littler – littlest
    • simple – simpler – simplest

    For two-syllable adjectives spelled with a final er, simply add the -er or -est suffix. For example:

    • bitter – bitterer – bitterest
    • eager – eagerer – eagerest
    • somber – somberer – somberest
    • tender – tenderer – tenderest

    Note, however, that the comparative and superlative forms of -le and -er adjectives are in the process of linguistic change with the addition of both -er/-est suffixes and more/most adverbs producing grammatically acceptable forms. For example, native English speakers use both humbler and more humble and both tenderest and most tender.

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    Irregular Adjectives

    Some English adjectives have irregular comparative and superlative forms. For example:

    • bad – worse – worst
    • far – further – furthest
    • good – better – best
    • many – more – most
    • old – elder – eldest
    • well – better – best

    Note that the superlative form of irregular adjectives in English almost always appears with the determiner the as in She is my elder sister but He is the eldest sibling.

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    Other Adjectives

    All other adjectives in English require the adverbs more and most in the comparative and superlative forms. For example:

    • comfortable – more comfortable – most comfortable
    • kindhearted – more kindhearted – most kindhearted
    • romantic – more romantic – most romantic
    • zealous – more zealous – most zealous

    The adverbs more and most function as adjective phrase modifiers within the adjective phrases of comparative and superlative adjectives.

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    Pronunciation Changes

    The pronunciation of the positive form of English adjectives does not change in the comparative and superlative forms. For example:

    • bright [braiyt] – brighter [braiytər] – brightest [braiytɛst]
    • damp [dӕmp] – damper [dӕmpər] – dampest [dӕmpɛst]
    • jolly [ĵali] – jollier [ĵaliər] – jolliest [ĵaliɛst]

    However, for adjectives pronounced with a final ng [ŋ], insert a g [g] sound between the positive form of the adjective and the comparative or superlative suffix. For example:

    • long [laŋ] – longer [laŋgər] – longest [laŋgɛst]
    • strong [straŋ] – stronger [straŋgər] – strongest [straŋgɛst]
    • young [yəŋ] – youngest – [yəŋgər] – youngest [yəŋgɛst]
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    For a printable reference study sheet of the morphological, spelling, and pronunciation rules for forming comparative and superlative adjectives in English, please download the supplement to this article Forming Comparative and Superlative Adjectives Reference Sheet.