Degrees of comparison in English

Degrees of comparison with examples

Last Updated on December 23, 2021 by iSchoolConnect

Degrees of comparison is a very useful concept in English that helps you to communicate more effectively. You can use it to share your views on two different things in a very specific way. But in order to apply this concept correctly, you need to understand what degrees of comparison are and how they work.

Degrees of comparison are the ways in which we compare two things or concepts with each other. They are adjectives that change depending on how strongly you feel about the things you’re comparing.

In English, there are three degrees of comparison and we will go through all of them further in the article. Along with each type, there will also be examples to help you better understand the concept. Some of the exceptions within this concept in the English grammar will be touched upon later in this article. So, read on… 

What are the degrees of comparison?

Degrees of comparison are related to modifying or changing adjectives or adverbs. Identifying the degree of a word allows us to state about its quantity, quality, or some other factor with respect to something else. Here is a very simple degree of comparison example-

  • Happy – Happier

In this example, we are able to change the adjective ‘happy’ by modifying the ending of the word.

However, sometimes you do not need to change the ending, but add a word to the start. For example, the word ‘beautiful’ does not change when you need to compare it. Something cannot be ‘beautifuler,’ because that is not a word. Instead, we add the word ‘more’ or ‘most’ before ‘beautiful.’

  • Beautiful – More Beautiful – Most Beautiful 

As you can see, this form of comparison follows a progressive trend.

Consequetnly, there are three degrees of comparison in English-

  1. Positive degree
  2. Comparative degree, and
  3. Superlative degree

These are in the ascending order of greatness. 

Food
When comparing two things you should always use the comparative degree. For example “Which of the two is a healthier food choice?”

A simple modification to the end of the word works for most comparison changes: -er and -est for comparative and superlative, respectively.

This rule does exceptionally in most degrees of comparison changes. If we add -er to the end of ‘small,’ then it becomes smaller (comparative). If we add -est to the end of ‘black,’ it becomes blackest (superlative).

So, adding -er for comparative and -est for superlative works for most adjectives. But this trick typically does not work with adverbs.

Positive degree of comparison

The positive degree simply states a quantity or quality, without making a comparison. Adjectives like happy, fast, and excited and adverbs such as wonderfully and calmly are all examples of the positive degree. These words are simply statements that tell us the quality or describe something in itself. The word or phrase does not change or get modified. The positive degree is also sometimes called the absolute degree. 

Examples of positive degree of comparison: Big, tall, healthy, unkind, and superficial.

Comparative degree of comparison

This is the first level of comparison. It indicates an actual comparison and involves changing the adjective slightly. The comparative degree of comparison can be used to show the difference between two states, for example-

Superficial – More superficial

Sweet – Sweeter

Here are a few examples of changing positive degree to the comparative degree-

Positive DegreeComparative Degree
HappyHappier
SadSadder
TallTaller
BigBigger
HealthyHealthier
KindKinder
LongLonger
CleverCleverer
FastFaster
SlowSlower
SmartSmarter
QuietQuieter

Some adverbs do not change or transform with simple modifications. Some of these exceptions are-

Many – More – Most

Badly – Worse – Worst

Superlative degree of comparison

This is the highest or greatest degree of comparison. It is like going one step up from the comparative degree. It is used to make a comparison to something of the highest degree. 

For instance, if there are several students in a classroom and you wish to arrange or categorize them by physical attributes, then you would use adjectives. You could use descriptors like height or weight. For example, student A is taller than student B. Or, that student is the tallest of all students. In the last sentence, the superlative form (tallest) lets us know that there is no one taller than the student we are referring to. 

Superlative comparisons are sometimes used not in a literal sense, but as a form of exaggeration. For example, “She is the kindest person in the world!” It is not possible to quantify, nor truly compare who the kindest person across the entire planet is.

Here are examples of what the positive degree would change to in the comparative and superlative degrees-

Positive DegreeComparative DegreeSuperlative Degree
SmallSmallerSmallest
BeautifulMore beautifulMost beautiful
GoodBetterBest
DarkDarkerDarkest
BrightBrighterBrightest
CleanCleanerCleanest
DirtyDirtierDirtiest
WealthyWealthierWealthiest
ShallowShallowerShallowest
BlurryBlurrierBlurriest
ColdColderColdest
WarmWarmerWarmest
DimlyMore dimlyMost dimly
LoudlyMore loudlyMost loudly
SweetlyMore sweetlyMost Sweetly
HighHigherHighest
SoonSoonerSoonest

Important note

  • Do not use double comparisons when making a comparative or superlative degree comparison. “This is the most fastest car in the world” is wrong. It should be “This is the fastest car in the world” instead. 
  • Avoid using the superlative degree if you are only comparing two things or people. Example: Between the twins, she is the cleverest. In this example, only two people are being compared. So, it should be “Between the twins, she is cleverer.” 
  • Some adjectives are already in the superlative state. So, you cannot apply degrees of comparison to them. For example, the word ‘dead’ cannot become deader or deadest since ‘dead’ is already absolute. Similarly, if something is unique, another thing cannot be ‘more unique.’ However, although words like deadest may not be grammatically correct, it may be alright if you are knowingly and intentionally using it (like in poetry). 

Last thoughts

Degrees of comparison are easy to grasp once you know the basics. Sometimes, you may come across words that do not easily fit in with the typical modification like other words. In most of these cases, you will need to use ‘more’ or ‘most’ to make the word comparative or superlative.

The major hurdle to be aware of is modifying the word when you should not. For example, the word ‘afraid’ does not become ‘afraider’ or ‘afraidest’. It will be ‘more afraid’ or ‘most afraid’. But, these exceptions may be hard to spot. However, with practice and by expanding your vocabulary, you will get better (see what we did there?) at spotting these exceptions.

FAQs

1. When comparing two things, should I use the superlative degree?

No, in general, when comparing only two things, you should use the comparative degree. The superlative degree of comparison should be used when comparing three or more things/people. 

Example-

Trees are the tallest than giraffes. (Incorrect)

Trees are taller than giraffes. (Correct)

2. What are some exceptions to the degrees of comparison rules?

Some words are not followed by ‘than’ when making a comparison. While ‘he is taller than her’ is correct, saying ‘that is inferior than this’ is incorrect. Instead, we say ‘that is inferior to this’. A few other words follow this exception, including senior, junior, preferable, superior and elder.

3. Can we add -er and -est to all words to change the degree of comparison?

No, not all words fall under the simple rule of adding -er or -est, since not all words are grammatically correct when modified like this. If you wish to make ‘interesting’ into the comparative and superlative forms, then you will need to say ‘more interesting’ and ‘most interesting.’ Words that cannot grammatically be changed with -er or -est will typically follow this format. 

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Happy Learning!

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