Academic Guides: Grammar: Comparisons (2024)

Adjectives and adverbs can be used to make comparisons. The comparative form is used to compare two people, ideas, or things. The superlative form with the word "the" is used to compare three or more. Comparatives and superlatives are often used in writing to hedge or boost language.

Here are some rules and examples of how to form the comparatives and superlatives:

General Rules for Comparatives and Superlatives

Adjective or AdverbComparativeSuperlative
One-syllable adjectivessmallsmaller(the) smallest
fastfaster(the) fastest
largelarger(the) largest
bigbigger (Note the spelling here)(the) biggest
Most two-syllable adjectivesthoughtfulmore/less thoughtful(the) most/least thoughtful
usefulmore/less useful(the) most/least useful
Adverbs ending in -lycarefullymore/less carefully(the) most/least careful
slowlymore/less slowly(the) most/least slowly
Two-syllable adjectives ending in -ysleepysleepier(the) sleepiest
happyhappier(the) happiest
Two-syllable adjectives ending with –er, -le, -or, or –owlittlelittler(the) littlest
narrownarrower(the) narrowest
gentlegentler(the) gentlest
Three or more syllable adjectivesintelligentmore/less intelligent(the) most/least intelligent
importantmore/less important(the) most/least important

Two-Syllable Adjectives That Follow Two Rules (either form is correct)

clevermore/less clever(the) most/least clever
cleverer(the) cleverest
simplemore/less simple(the) most/least simple
simpler(the) simplest
friendlymore/less friendly(the) most/least friendly
friendlier(the) friendliest

Irregular Adjectives

goodbetter(the) best
badworse(the) worst
farfarther(the) farthest
littleless(the) least
fewfewer(the) fewest

To find other comparative structures, look up the word in an online dictionary such as Merriam Webster. If you are a multilingual writer, you may find Merriam Webster’s Learner’s Dictionary helpful for level-appropriate definitions and examples.

To form comparative sentences, use the comparative with the word "than." Here are some examples:

  • Fewer participants volunteered for the study than I had anticipated.
  • Business school was less expensive than law school.
  • His application was processed more quickly than he thought.

It is also possible to use "(not) as…as" to express similarity or differences. Here are some examples:

  • Reading is as enjoyable as writing.
  • The results were as conclusive as in previous studies.
  • Finding participants for the study was not as easy as I thought.
  • Her level of expertise was not as extensive as her employer had hoped.

Transitions such as "and," "but," "in addition," "in contrast," "furthermore," and "on the other hand" can also be used to show comparison. See our website page on transitions and sentence structures and types of sentences for more information and examples.

Academic Guides: Grammar: Comparisons (2024)
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