An ESL Guide to Comparative and Superlative Adjectives

Two paper houses

In this article, we’ll review comparative and superlative adjectives including their uses and forms.

Click below to listen to a recording of this passage.

Intermediate and advanced speakers are well aware of adjectives and their use. However, as we advance our language skills, many grammar elements become more complex as a means of expression.

In fact, some elements even change forms. That’s the case with adjectives as we will see in this article.

Prefer to watch this lesson on video? Here’s our full length tutorial on comparative and superlative adjectives:

Comparative and Superlative Adjectives

Comparative Adjectives

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A great way to describe nouns (people, places, things) is by comparison. For example:

  • Joey is taller than John.

To describe how tall Joey is in the sentence, the writer uses John as a comparative reference.

Let’s look at another:

  • This car is more expensive than my previous vehicle.

Again, the writer compares the expense of a car to the one they previously owned.

Less is also a possibility when using a comparative reference. As in:

  • This car is less expensive than my previous vehicle.

However, note the adjectives in bold. A common mistake that English learners and native speakers commonly make is using the incorrect form of a comparative adjective.

Examples:

  • Her hair is more long than my hair. – INCORRECT
  • Her hair is longer than my hair. – CORRECT

Why is the first example incorrect and the second correct? I’m glad you asked!

Rules for Using Comparative Adjectives

**Note: the rules are based on the number of syllables and spelling of the adjective.**

  1. If an adjective has only one syllable, add -er to the end of the word. (Like the example using taller above).
  2. If an adjective has two syllables and does not end in -y or if the adjective has three or more syllables use this form: more + adjective. (Like the example using expensive above.)
  3. If an adjective has two syllables AND ends in -y, change the -y to -i and add -er.

**Note: There are irregular adjectives (see below) and a list of adjectives that follow two rules.**

Examples:

  • This vacuum is cheaper than that one. (Rule 1)
  • The house is colder than usual. (Rule 1)
    • Her hair is more tangled than usual. (Rule 2)
    • My time is more important than yours. (Rule 2)
  • That comedian was much funnier than the last one. (Rule 3)
  • He seems much busier than he was last week. (Rule 3)

Superlative Adjectives

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Another form of comparison with an adjective is achieved by comparing a group of objects, people, or things to the upper or lower limit of a certain quality. We accomplish this by using a superlative adjective.

For example:

  • Brittany was the tallest in the group.

To compare Brittany’s height to all of the others in the group, the writer uses the superlative form of tall.

  • That professor is the most interesting of all my professors.
  • That professor is the least interesting of all my professors.

For superlatives, follow the same rules as comparatives except that you use -est instead of -er and use most/least instead of more/less.

Examples:

  • This vacuum is the cheapest one I could find. (Rule 1)
  • Our house is the biggest one on the street. (Rule 1)
    • It is the most important decision you’ll ever make in your life. (Rule 2)
    • This purse is the least expensive one I’ve looked at so far. (Rule 2)
  • That comedian is the funniest I’ve ever seen! (Rule 3)
  • That moment was the angriest I’ve ever seen my dad. (Rule 3)

Irregular Comparative and Superlative Adjectives

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As we noted above, there are some irregular adjectives that do not follow the rules. Memorize this list of adjectives and bookmark our page for reference.

Adjective Comparative Superlative
Bad Worse Worst
Good Better Best
Little Less Least
Much More Most
Far Farther/Further Furthest/Farthest

Comparative Adjectives Examples:

  • This recipe is definitely worse than the one my grandmother uses.
  • The movie was better than I thought it would be.
  • I would like less juice than he had.
  • She has more money than me.
  • I ran farther than I’ve ever run before.

Superlative Adjectives Examples:

  • That was the worst movie I’ve ever seen!
  • It was the best concert ever!
  • It was the least amount of apples we ever harvested.
  • John had the most attitude of all the inmates.
  • The county line was the farthest Joe had ever traveled.

With this guide, you should be able to use comparative and superlative adjectives in the proper format and context. Be sure to bookmark this page for reference and leave a comment below.

For all things ESL grammar related, visit the Magoosh Speaking Blog. And if you want to take your ESL learning to the next level, schedule a session with one of our amazing tutors!

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