How to use Comparatives and Superlative Adjectives

Learn about comparative and superlative adjectives in English grammar. Clear and simple explanation of meaning and use, with examples.

Keith Taylor

Contents

Five Minute Guide to Comparative and Superlative Adjectives

Forming sentences with comparatives and superlatives

  1. One syllable adjectives
    • Comparative: add ER (cheaper)
    • Superlative: add EST (the cheapest)
  2. One syllable adjectives ending in E
    • Comparative: add R (nicer)
    • Superlative: add ST (the nicest)
  3. One syllable adjectives ending in consonant – vowel – consonant
    • Comparative: add consonant + ER (hotter)
    • Superlative: add consonant + EST (the hottest)
  4. Two syllable adjectives ending in Y
    • Comparative: replace Y with IER (happier)
    • Superlative: replace Y with IEST (the happiest)
  5. Two or more syllable adjectives
    • Comparative: add MORE / LESS (more/less beautiful)
    • Superlative: add THE MOST / THE LEAST (the most/least beautiful)
  6. Irregular adjectives
    • good – better – the best
    • bad – worse – the worst
    • far – further – the furthest
  7. Equality and inequality
    • as + adjective + as
    • not as + adjective + as
  8. Modifying comparatives
    • much / a lot / far / a little / a bit / slightly + comparative adjective
  9. Modifying superlatives
    • by far / easily / nearly + superlative adjective

Using comparative and superlative adjectives

  1. We use comparative adjectives 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. We use superlative adjectives 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. We use as + adjective + as 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. We use not as + adjective + as 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.

Other rules and use of comparative and superlative adjectives

  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/.

Comparative and superlative adjectives in detail

What are comparative and superlative forms of adjectives and why do we use them?

Very often it’s useful to be able to say how hungry (or old, or tall) someone is in comparison to another person or thing, or in comparison to another time. Have a look at this conversation:

  • John: Wow, you’re tall!
    Harry: Yes, and I’m taller than my brother!
    Chris: Ha! But you’re not as tall as my dad. He’s the tallest dad in the world!

John, Harry and Chris are comparing the height of Harry, Harry’s brother and Chris’s dad. They’re using the adjective “tall” and its comparative and superlative forms.

At first, John and Harry are just comparing two people, Harry and his brother. For this, they use the comparative form of “tall”. For most adjectives, we make this by adding “-er” to the adjective.

When Chris joins the conversation though, he adds a third person (his Dad), and so now we’re comparing a group of people with the aim of finding the one individual who tops all the others. For this we use the superlative form, which we usually make by adding “-est” to the adjective.

With some adjectives the rule is a little different. We don’t say, for example, “the beautifulest”, but “the most beautiful”. Here’s how to make the comparative and superlative forms of different adjectives:

ADJECTIVE COMPARATIVE SUPERLATIVE
(Note: We normally use superlatives with “the…”)
Adjectives with one syllable
hot, tall, sweet
add “er” *
hotter, taller, sweeter
add “est” *
hottest, tallest, sweetest
Adjectives ending in “y”
happy, funny
Take off “y” and add “ier”
happier, funnier
Take off “y” and add “est”
happiest, funniest
Adjectives with two or more syllables
practical, beautiful
Add “more” or “less”
more practical, more beautiful
Add “most” or “least”
most practical, most beautiful
Irregular adjectives
good, bad, far
better, worse, further best, worst, furthest

* For adjectives consisting of, or ending in, “consonant + vowel + consonant”, add an extra consonant: hot – hotter – hottest / flat – flatter – flattest

Comparing with gradable and non-gradable adjectives

Adjectives that are gradable can also be used in the comparative and superlative form; non-gradable adjectives cannot. Let’s look at two examples:

  • cold
    “cold” is a gradable adjective – you can be “a bit cold” or “extremely cold”. This means we can use “cold” in the comparative and superlative forms, so you can be “colder” or “the coldest”.
  • dead
    “dead” is a non-gradable adjective – a mosquito can’t be “a bit dead” or “extremely dead”. This means that we can’t use “dead” in the comparative and superlative forms, so the mosquito can’t be “deader” or “the deadest”.

Some exceptions apply, for example:

  • British
    Someone can be “more British” than someone else, in the sense of having stereotypically British characteristics, even though British is normally a non-gradable adjective.

as + adjective + as

Sometimes when we compare two things we need to say that they are, in fact, the same. It might not be that I am older than you, or you are older than me. We may instead have the same age. If this is the case, “older than…” isn’t going to help us much, so we need another way to compare two things and say that they are equal. Have a look at these sentences:

  • Spain is as big as France.
  • I am as old as you.

In both these cases there is no difference between the size of Spain and France, or between the age of you and me – they are the same. What we’ve done to show this is use “as + adjective + as”.

Now, in the conversation between John, Harry and Chris above, Chris said:

  • You’re not as tall as my dad.

Can you see what has happened by adding the word “not”? We’ve gone back to the two things being different again. So, saying “you’re not as tall as my dad” is the same as saying “my dad is taller than you”.

Grading and comparing at the same time

Gradable adjectives can be “graded” (made more or less intense) with a group of adverbs called intensifiers. The same is true for comparative and superlative forms of adjectives, but the intensifiers we use tend to be different.

Some intensifiers we use for comparative forms of adjectives are “much”, “far”, “a little”, “a bit”, “a little bit”:

  • It’s far hotter today than yesterday.
  • I’m a little bit happier today.

With superlative forms of adjectives we use intensifiers like “easily”, “much”, “far”, “by far”:

  • You’re easily the tallest person I’ve ever met.
  • This is by far the worst day of my life.

Keith Taylor

Keith is the co-founder of Eslbase and School of TEFL. He's been a teacher and teacher trainer for over 20 years, in Indonesia, Australia, Morocco, Spain, Italy, Poland, France and now in the UK.

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17 comments

  • Aparna Prakash

    Please answer
    Degrees of comparison
    1 . February is smaller than all other months. ( Superlative )

    • Keith profile photo
      A
      Keith Taylor

      Hi

      It would be better to say:
      “February is smaller than all other months.”
      “February is the shortest month”.

      Hope this helps.

  • Atika

    Which one is correct?

    “Which is the cheaper of the two?” or “Which is the cheapest of the two?”

    • Keith profile photo
      A
      Keith Taylor

      “Which is the cheaper of the two?” is correct in standard English (the English used in more formal contexts such as education). However, “Which is the cheapest of the two?” is also commonly used in spoken and written English.

  • Eve Nichols

    Can we get an explanation of constructions such as “as tall a man as John”, “as dense a component as possible”, as small a gap as acceptable” and similar? I find myself trying to explain this to a German engineer who remains unconvinced that these constructions are legitimate, despite many excellent examples from the Net. He wants to say “a component as dense as possible” instead.

    • Keith profile photo
      A
      Keith Taylor

      These are examples of using a noun phrase after the first “as” when comparing equals. It doesn’t change the meaning at all, just the construction. So “This is as dense a component as possible” has the same meaning as “This component is as dense as possible”. It probably adds slightly more emphasis to the adjective. For example, “This is as hot a fire as you’ll ever see” has slightly more impact than “This fire is as hot as you’ll ever see”. With regard to your engineer, I think it’s just one of the things he’ll have to accept as correct!

  • Alicia

    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.

  • Janaina

    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.

  • Bessy

    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 ___?

  • Fuff

    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.

    • Roz

      This is a great idea! Thank you so much! I was searching for creative ideas for young adults! Best!

      • Thet

        Please convert “Women talk much longer than men” to as……..as form.

        • Keith profile photo
          A
          Keith Taylor

          Men don’t talk as much as men.

          If you use “long”, it sounds better if you add “for”, like this:

          Men don’t talk for as long as women.

  • Jenn

    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!

    • Kamol

      How we can use ‘all of ‘ in superlative?

      • Keith profile photo
        A
        Keith Taylor

        Here’s an example:
        All of the greatest football teams play in the Champions League.

  • Jim

    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.

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