Dumb and Dumber: 5 Common Errors with Comparatives and Superlatives

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Adjectives and adverbs come in three degrees of comparison: positive, comparative, and superlative. When comparing or contrasting two or more things, we use the comparative or superlative degrees. The following chart gives some examples of adjectives and adverbs in their various degrees.

positive

comparative

superlative

adjectives

happy

happier

happiest

smart

smarter

smartest

beautiful

more beautiful

most beautiful

good

better

best

bad

worse

worst

adverbs

sweetly

more sweetly

most sweetly

gladly

more gladly

most gladly

carefully

more carefully

most carefully

well

better

best

When using these modifiers in comparisons, avoid the following common errors.

Confusing Comparative and Superlative

Rule: When comparing or contrasting two persons, places, or things, use the comparative degree. When comparing three or more, use the superlative degree

Comparing two: On most women, evening gowns look more attractive than overalls.

More than two: Of all the electricians I know, you are the most attractive.

Comparing two: Marvin is wiser than Tom, but Tom is kinder.

More than two: Solomon was the wisest man of all.

 A common error occurs when the degrees are confused:

Confused: Between Larry and Moe, Moe is the meanest.

Better: Between Curly and Moe, Moe is the meaner.

Doubling Up

In forming comparative and superlative modifiers, you either add an er/est ending or add the helpers more/most. It is never necessary to use both:

Incorrect: That was my most happiest moment.

Correct: That was my happiest moment.

Incorrect: This restaurant is more better than the other.

Correct: This restaurant is better than the other.

Unbalanced Comparisons

Be sure that the items you compare are of a similar kind.

Unbalanced: Mrs. William’s tests are easier than Mr. Olsen.

         Balanced: Mrs. Williams tests are easier than Mr. Olsen’s [tests].

Unbalanced: This coffee is better than the shop on main street.

Balanced:        This coffee is better than the coffee in the shop on Main Street.

Not Using Other and Else

When comparing one of a group with the rest of the group, remember to use other or else.

Illogical: Greg was more trustworthy than any student in class.

Logical: Greg was more trustworthy than any other student in class.

Illogical: Bill is faster than anyone on the team.

Logical: Bill is faster than anyone else on the team.

Confusing Less and Fewer

When making negative comparisons, use the adjectives less and fewer. Increasingly these words are used interchangeably, but the traditional standard usage made a distinction that you should at least be aware of.

Traditional: Use less when comparing amounts and fewer when comparing numbers of things that can be counted.

Aunt Martha has less patience than Uncle Henry. (Patience can’t be counted.)

Aunt Martha knows fewer jokes than Uncle Henry. (Jokes can be counted.)

*****

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About the Author

Brian Wasko

Brian WaskoBrian is the founder and president of WriteAtHome.com. One of his passions is to teach young people how to write better.View all posts by Brian Wasko

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  8. Vinny
    Vinny03-01-2016

    Thank you so much. It helps a lot :)

  9. t0ntin
    t0ntin11-29-2015

    I do not see the most common mistake which is to say things like more clear instead of clearer.

  10. Josie
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    Thank you!
    It was very helpful!

  11. Kevin Obida
    Kevin Obida12-07-2014

    so what’s the definition of a confusing comparison?

    • Brian Wasko
      Brian Wasko12-08-2014

      I don’t know. I address the error of confusing comparative superlative pronouns.

  12. Chantal
    Chantal12-08-2013

    Thank you so much. I love having these resources available.
    Chantal

  13. Brian Wasko
    Brian Wasko12-05-2013

    Good question Chatal. Yes, “even” is common before a comparative. It adds a kind of emphasis. It implies that the “comparee” is an outstanding example of the quality in question, but the “compared” is greater still.

    “I am even happier than Sue” implies that Sue is exceptionally happy.

  14. Chantal
    Chantal12-05-2013

    Is the use of even before a comparative acceptable?

    I am even happier than Sue.

    Is it doubling up? Implied or adds emphasis?

    Merci

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