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Commonly Confused:

Comparatives and Superlatives

If you’ve ever been tripped up by when to add –er or –est to a word, can’t remember which one of those pesky irregular adverbs or adjectives is correct or if you should use more or most, have I got the article for you. It seems as though there’s been an increase is this particular arena in advertising, not to mention novels.

A comparative is used to show comparison. It sounds simple enough, but it’s not always that clear which one to use. Let’s start with the basics.

When referring to one item, the non-comparative form is used, such as, nice. When comparing two, –er is added, such as, nicer. When three or more items are being compared, –est is the way to go, such as, nicest. Please take note of bad and good. These are examples irregular adverbs that do not follow this rule. 






Comparative (2)





[one_third_last]Superlative (3+)





The most common mistake I see is using the superlative when there are only two items, for example:

Incorrect: Mary was the tallest of the two girls.

Correct: Mary was the taller of the two girls.

When a word with three or more syllables is used as a comparative, –er and –est are typically not used, but rather more and most are used before the adverb.




Comparative (2)

more articulate

more beautiful

[one_third_last]Superlative (3+)

most articulate

most beautiful[/one_third_last]

Incorrect: Sharon’s garden was the beautifullest in town.

Correct: Sharon’s garden was the most beautiful in town.

Adverbs that end in –ly should not be changed to add –er or –est. Instead use more and most, for example:

Incorrect: He moved quicker than the cart did.

Correct: He moved quickly.

Correct: He moved more quickly than the cart did.

I have to admit, this last error of replacing the –ly with –er or –est is use quite often in speech where I live, and could very well be part of the regional dialect. Who knows, this error just might end up in one of my books to establish character voice through dialect.


I’ll leave you with a commercial for Gain laundry detergent. Can you spot the comparative/superlative grammar error?

 Now… go write something!

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