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

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  Ed Good  —  Grammar Tips
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Adjectives Comparative and Superlative

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.

Hard Copy

You may download our entire discussion of the Parts of Speech. Simply download the Grammar eBook Understanding the Parts of Speech.


Previous: Positive, Comparative, Superlative

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

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