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Positive, Comparative, Superlative

Postive, Comparative, Superlative - Good, Better, Best

Recall how we defined nouns as words capable of having plurals and possessive endings. Adjectives (and their first cousin, the adverb) also have a feature that distinguishes them. They come in three states. First, the raw adjective—in its positive state—merely describes the noun modified; it doesn’t care about how this particular person or thing stacks up against other members of the same noun class.

Comparative and Superlative

The States of Adjectives

Forming the comparatives and superlatives of adjectives gets a bit tricky. You have two options. Either you can add the ending ‑er to form the comparative and ‑est to form the superlative, or you can put more before the adjective to form the comparative and most to form the superlative.

If I hand you a hot plate, the adjective hot describes the positive state of the plate and cares not one whit about how the plate compares in temperature with other hot plates. In its second state, however, the adjective wants to show that this thing or person has more of the trait it expresses than other things or people in the same noun class. The adjective has a comparative form to express this condition.

Thus, if I hand you a hotter plate, you start to worry about taking hold without a hot pad or glove.

And in its third state, the adjective sticks its neck out and boasts that this particular thing or person has the most of the trait it expresses. The adjective uses its superlative state for this ultimate in brags. So you would probably refuse to pick up the hottest plate.

Thus, take the adjective fast. He is a fast runner. To show that he’s a better runner than the next guy, we say, He is a faster runner. And if he always wins the race, we say, He is the fastest runner of all.

But consider the adjective difficult. We would say, This was a difficult test. But we would not say, This was a difficulter test. Instead, we’d say, This was a more difficult test. We wouldn’t say, This was the difficultest test of all. Instead, we’d say, This was the most difficult test of all.

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