Comparison of adjectives in English

Grammatical constructions used for comparing adjectives

There are three forms of comparison:

  • positive
  • comparative
  • superlative

1. Comparison with -er/-est

clean → cleaner → (the) cleanest

We use -er/-est with the following adjectives:

1.1. Adjectives with one syllable

positive comparative superlative
clean cleaner cleanest
new newer newest
cheap cheaper cheapest

1.2. Adjectives with two syllables and the following endings:

1.2.1. Adjectives with two syllables, ending in -y

positive comparative superlative
dirty dirtier dirtiest
easy easier easiest
happy happier happiest
pretty prettier prettiest

1.2.2. Adjectives with two syllables, ending in -er

positive comparative superlative
clever cleverer cleverest

1.2.3. Adjectives with two syllables, ending in -le

positive comparative superlative
simple simpler simplest

1.2.4. Adjectives with two syllables, ending in -ow

positive comparative superlative
narrow narrower narrowest

1.3. Spelling of the adjectives using the endings -er/-est

positive comparative superlative comment
large larger largest leave out the silent -e
big bigger biggest Double the consonant after short vowel
sad sadder saddest
dirty dirtier dirtiest Change -y to -i (consonant before -y)
shy shyer shyest Here -y is not changed to -i.
(although consonant before -y)

2. Comparison with more – most

all adjectives with more than one syllable (except some adjectives with two syllables – see 2.1. to 2.4.)

positive comparative superlative
difficult more difficult (the) most difficult

3. Irregular adjectives

positive comparative superlative comment
good better best  
bad worse worst  
much more most uncountable nouns
many more most countable nouns
little less least  
little smaller smallest  

4. Special adjectives

Some adjectives have two possible forms of comparison (-er/est and more/most).

positive comparative superlative
clever cleverer / more clever cleverest / most clever
common commoner / more common commonest / most common
likely likelier / more likely likeliest / most likely
pleasant pleasanter / more pleasant pleasantest / most pleasant
polite politer / more polite politest / most polite
quiet quieter / more quiet quietest / most quiet
simple simpler / more simple simplest / most simple
stupid stupider / more stupid stupidest / most stupid
subtle subtler / more subtle subtlest / most subtle
sure surer / more sure surest / most sure

5. Difference in meaning with adjectives

positive comparative superlative comment
far farther farthest distance
further furthest distance or
time
late later latest  
latter x  
x last  
old older oldest people and things
elder eldest people (family)
near nearer nearest distance
x next order