Comparative and superlative adjectives

Form

One syllable adjectives
Comparative: add ER (cheaper)
Superlative: add EST (the cheapest)

One syllable adjectives ending in E
Comparative: add R (nicer)
Superlative: add ST (the nicest)

One syllable adjectives ending in consonant – vowel – consonant
Comparative: add consonant + ER (hotter)
Superlative: add consonant + EST (the hottest)

Two syllable adjectives ending in Y
Comparative: replace Y with IER (happier)
Superlative: replace Y with IEST (the happiest)

Two or more syllable adjectives
Comparative: add MORE / LESS (more/less beautiful)
Superlative: add THE MOST / THE LEAST (the most/least beautiful)

Irregular adjectives
good – better – the best
bad – worse – the worst
far – further – the furthest

Equality and inequality
as + adjective + as
not as + adjective + as

Modifying comparatives
much / a lot / far / a little / a bit / slightly + comparative adjective

Modifying superlatives
by far / easily / nearly + superlative adjective

Meaning

  1. Comparative adjectives are used to compare two things.

    • John is thinner than Bob.
    • It’s more expensive to travel by train than by bus.
    • My house is smaller than my friend’s house.
  2. Superlative adjectives are used to compare one thing with the rest of the group it belongs to.

    • John is the tallest in the class.
    • He’s the best football player in the team.
    • This is the most expensive hotel I’ve ever stayed in.
  3. as + adjective + as is used to say that two things are equal in some way.

    • He’s as tall as me.
    • Jim’s car is as fast as mine.
  4. not as + adjective + as is used to say that two things are not equal in some way.

    • Jim’s car is not as fast as mine.
  5. Comparatives can be repeated to say that something is changing.

    • These exams are getting worse and worse every year.
    • She gets more and more beautiful every time I see her.

Additional points

  1. Comparatives can be modified with much, a lot, far, a little, a bit, slightly.

    • Bob is much richer than I am.
    • My mother’s hair is slightly longer than mine.
  2. Superlatives can be modified with by far, easily, nearly.

    • Mario’s is by far the best restaurant in town.
    • I’m nearly the oldest in the class.
  3. The is not used with the superlative if there is a possessive.

    • His strongest point is his ambition.
  4. If the second part of a comparative or superlative sentence is clear from what comes before or from the context, we can omit it.

    • Going by bus is very fast, but the train is more comfortable.

Pronunciation

See the phonemic chart for IPA symbols used below.

  1. than after a comparative is pronounced with a schwa in connected speech. “He is taller than me”: /tɔːlə ðən/.
  2. -est in superlative adjectives is pronounced /ɪst/.
  3. as when talking about equality (or inequality) is pronounced with a schwa: “He’s not as tall as me”: /əz tɔːl əz/.

6 teaching ideas

  1. Jim says:

    If your class is looking a bit sleepy, try this for a quick pick-me-up.

    Divide the class into two groups. Ask them to line up from tallest to smallest. You can do this easily through gestures. Students quickly get the idea that there’s some kind of comparison going on.

    Write on the board:

    Student 1 is taller than student 2 (using students’ real names!)

    Tell the groups that there will be a race to see which group can rearrange themselves first (by height, age, etc.)
    Use your imagination to find ways to rearrange groups. These activities are done while standing up which is an excellent way to vary the pace of the class.

  2. Jenn says:

    When trying to teach young kids whether to use the comparative or superlative form, tell them to use the comparative to compare two items because -er has two letters… and to use the superlative form to compare three or more items because -est has three letters!

  3. Fuff says:

    For superlative practice, I have my students write 10 questions like:

    Who is the most important person in your life?
    What is the most expensive thing you have ever bought?
    What is the funniest TV show?…

    Then they stand up and circulate asking their classmates the questions. Students answer using complete sentences, for example:

    My laptop computer is the most important thing I have ever bought.

    The person asking the question then notes the answer using only the person’s name and the keyword in the answer, for example:

    Hector / laptop.

    Then for homework they write the answers using complete sentences:

    The most expensive thing Hector has ever bought is his laptop computer.

    For additional HW I have them write a paragraph related to one of their own questions. They talk about their paragraph as a warm up activity in the following lesson. This gives them reading, writing, listening and speaking practice.

  4. Bessy says:

    When I teach comparatives I draw a representation of a city on the board that is a circle with the name of a city in it. I then ask students to describe that city. Elicit and write on the board only those adjectives with one or two syllables. Once I’ve elicited a considerable number of adjectives. I draw another circle of a different size and write the name of another city in it. This time ask students to compare the two cities. Write their examples on the board making corrections whenever necessary. Once students have grasped the concept of comparing. Introduce the question.

    Which city is bigger ___ or ___?

  5. Janaina says:

    I usually bring pictures of famous cities around the world and ask where they are located. I give students some information (transport, weather…) for each place and then ask them to compare:

    Which city is noisier, more polluted, etc.

  6. Alicia says:

    I teach comparatives and superlatives in business contexts to adults, so I ask them to describe their activity/business and how it compares to their competitors.

    How is your company better or worse or weaker or stronger?

    You can also have student(s) tell you about the products they sell and how they compare.

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