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States of Adjective: -er or more, -est or most

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  Ed Good  —  Grammar Tips
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How to Form the States of Adjectives

You ask, therefore, how to tell when to use the ‑er and ‑est endings and when to use the helping words more and most? There’s no hard and fast rule, but some rules of thumb will help:

Syllable Rule for States of Adjectives

One-syllable adjectives (In almost all cases, use ‑er and ‑est.)

big, bigger, biggest small, smaller, smallest thin, thinner, thinnest

Note: In some expressions, however, even one-syllable adjectives use more to form the comparative: more sweet than sour.

Two-syllable adjectives (In many cases, use ‑er and ‑est.)

happy, happier, happiest narrow, narrower, narrowest silly, sillier, silliest

Two-syllable adjectives (Some always require more and most.)

bizarre, more bizarre, most bizarre steadfast, more steadfast, most steadfast

Two-syllable adjectives (Some can use either the suffixes or the more-most technique.)

clever, cleverer, cleverest or clever, more clever, most clever

cruel, crueler, cruelest or cruel, more cruel, most cruel

Three-syllable adjectives (Use more and most.)

difficult, more difficult, most difficult memorable, more memorable, most memorable

Participle Rule for States of Adjectives

Present participles (‑ing verbs) and past participles (‑ed verbs) can act as adjectives.

thrilling movie, tired golfer

When you show these participial adjectives in comparative or superlative states, always use more and most.

more thrilling movie more tired golfer

Sounds-Weird Rule for States of Adjectives

Sometimes the ‑er and ‑est endings just sound strange.

For example, the correct comparative and superlative forms of common are commoner and commonest. But these words sound strange, the first like some cockney character pushing a barrow in the East End of London, the second like some sort of dangerous subversive.

Thus: common, more common, and most common would be regarded as correct by most people (simply because they’re used to hearing these forms). In formal settings, however, you should choose the correct forms, commoner and commonest.

Look-It-Up Rule for States of Adjectives

You can always find the answer in the dictionary.

Look up common, and immediately following the word you’ll find the endingser and ‑est. These entries show how to form the comparative and superlative forms of the adjective.

Now look up the word different. Notice that following the entry you do not find the endingser and ‑est. The absence of these endings means that you use more for the comparative and most for the superlative.


Previous: Positive, Comparative, Superlative

Next: Only One State, e.g., Unique

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Have a discussion about this article with the community:

  • Truslyn
    "You ask, therefore, how to tell..." would be a very odd opening sentence for a native speaker in this sort of writing. To what does "therefore" refer?
    LikeReply2 years ago
  • anssi_r
    This explanation is lacking, for example many one-syllable adjectives such as "moist" and "prone", use more-most, nowadays also "proud" in a growing extent.
    LikeReply 12 years ago
  • Chorongie Park
    Chorongie Park
    LikeReply 17 years ago
  • Vincent Celorico
    Vincent Celorico
    it s true
    LikeReply 27 years ago
  • Michelle Dolosa
    Michelle Dolosa
    It's a GooD
    LikeReply 37 years ago
    • Aviv Ben Efraim
      Aviv Ben Efraim
      I agree with you
      LikeReply 17 years ago
  • عبد الباسط الخيسى
    عبد الباسط الخيسى
    it's a good way to coparative and superlative. but we need alot of example
    LikeReply 38 years ago
  • Sadek Boumahchad
    Sadek Boumahchad
    way to go, indeed.
    LikeReply 38 years ago


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