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Adjectives are often employed in sentences to characterize, modify, or describe nouns in more detail. This use of adjectives provides more information to a listener or reader so that the message of a sentence can be better understood. Both English and Latin employ a comparison system so that the quality of two subjects may be compared. In some cases, the adjective itself changes so that the comparison is evident, but sometimes a helping word is used to indicate the comparison.
There are three types of comparison adjectives. The positive form is the most common because it simply indicates a quality of its subject. The comparative form literally compares a quality between two things. Finally, the superlative form indicates the highest form of a quality among three or more things.
When a speaker or writer wished to compare a quality between two subjects, the comparative adjective is used. Comparative adjectives function similarly in English and Latin so translation from one language to the other is simple. However, as with all things Latin, inflections are used in this language to indicate a comparison adjective’s use in a sentence. Surprisingly, Latin sometimes uses a helping word like English’s “more" to indicate a comparative adjective.
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English Comparative Adjectives
The comparison form of English comparative adjectives literally compares the quality of a subject to other subjects. English forms comparative adjectives by either adding an –er to the end of the adjective or using the word “more" in front of the adjectives. For example:
The man is taller.
The table is shorter.
The woman is more intelligent.
The fruit is more expensive.
In all of the sentences above, an adjective or adjective phrase is used to compare its subject with some other subject or object. Notice that it is not necessary to indicate with which other subject or object the original subject is being compared. This information may either be implicitly or explicitly indicated in another sentence. Sometimes this information must be gleamed by the listener or speaker but often the second subject, the one being compared to, is located in another sentence. Take, for example, the following two sentences:
The woman is tall. The man is taller.
Both sentences follow proper English grammar. However, the second sentence contains a comparative adjective. Only by the existence of the first sentence do we know to whom the man’s height is being compared.
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Latin Comparative Adjectives
As stated above, comparative adjectives function similarly in Latin and English. Latin comparative adjectives are formed with the genitive masculine singular stem of the adjective plus –ior (masculine and feminine) or –ius (neuter) and are further declined just as any two-form adjective of the third declension. For example:
Vir est longior (The man is taller)
Femina est longior (The woman is taller)
Recall that in two-form adjectives, masculine and feminine adjectives have the same form. The neuter gender has a different form. One kink in this system of forming comparative adjectives occurs when an adjective’s ending is preceded by a vowel. In this case, the word “magis" (literally “more") is placed before the adjective, much like English. For example:
Femina est magis dubia.
The woman is more uncertain.
Notice, as usual, that the adjective "dubia" agrees with the noun it modifies (femina) in case, number, and gender.
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The addition of –ior or –ius to Latin adjectives easily gives away their function as a comparative adjective. To remember that the addition of –ior represents a comparative adjective (rather than a positive of superlative adjective), think of the “or" in –ior as synonymous with English’s “–or–" in “more." Although, not all English comparative adjectives use the word “more", it is a quick reminder when encountered in Latin text.
Latin Comparative Adjectives: An English Comparison
Both Latin and English employ three types of adjectives of comparison to compare qualities of subjects. Although adjectives of comparison function similarly in both languages, Latin uses its usual inflections to indicate the adjective’s use in a sentence.