Simpler or More Simple: Which One Is Correct?

When people speak in English, people don’t always use perfect grammar. This is true whether you’re a native English speaker or someone learning the language for the first time. Many common “words” enter conversations that aren’t technically words at all. As a result, people get confused over which words are correct and which ones are completely wrong. One common example is the simpler or more simple debate. So, which is correct? Is it simpler or more simple? Read on to find out!

Is simpler a word?

If you study English, you probably know that “more” and “simple” are both words. So, it stands to reason that “more simple” would be the best way to make a comparative statement, right? Wrong! In fact, while you will almost certainly hear both “simpler” and “more simple” in English conversations, simpler is the correct form. Therefore, not only is simpler a word, but it’s also the correct word to use! 

 

Using comparative adjectives

So, how do we know that simpler is the correct form? Because, as a general rule, comparative adjectives with two syllables or less require an -er at the end. Let’s look at a few different examples:

One- and two-syllable words

  • Simple – Simpler – Simplest
    • He is living a simple lifestyle.
    • He is living a simpler lifestyle than I am.
    • He is living the simplest lifestyle possible.
  • New – Newer – Newest
    • She bought a new car.
    • She bought a newer car.
    • She bought the newest car on the market.
  • Big – Bigger – Biggest
    • This is a big dog.
    • This dog is bigger than the other one.
    • This is the biggest dog I’ve ever seen.
  • Happy – Happier – Happiest
    • My professor is a happy person.
    • My professor is happier than I am today.
    • My professor is the happiest person I know.

Three-syllables or more

Alternatively, if an adjective has three or more syllables, you will generally add “more” or “most” before the word to use it in a comparative statement or question. For example:

  • Expensive – More expensive – Most expensive
    • I found an expensive watch.
    • I found a more expensive watch at the mall.
    • I found the most expensive watch in the store.
  • Intelligent – More intelligent – Most intelligent
    • She is an intelligent student.
    • She is more intelligent than the other students.
    • She is the most intelligent student in the school.
  • Frightening – More frightening – Most frightening
    • It was a frightening movie.
    • The movie was more frightening than she expected.
    • It was the most frightening movie she had ever seen.
  • Confident – More confident – Most confident
    • He is feeling confident today.
    • He is feeling more confident today.
    • This is the most confident that he has ever felt.

Exceptions to the rule

While the two-syllable rule applies when choosing between more simple or simpler, it doesn’t apply with every two-syllable adjective. In fact, there are dozens of exceptions. In many cases, two-syllable words that don’t end in -y use “more” and “most” in the comparative form (though not always). For example:

  • Honest – More honest – Most famous
    • She was honest about the accident.
    • She was more honest about the accident.
    • She was the most honest about the accident.
  • Famous – More famous – Most famous
    • The famous actor won the Oscar.
    • The more famous actor won the Oscar.
    • The most famous actor won the Oscar.
  • Careful – More careful – Most careful
    • You need to be careful.
    • You need to be more careful.
    • You need to be the most careful person here.
  • Common – More common – Most common
    • She has a common last name.
    • She has a more common last name than her friend.
    • She has the most common last name in the world.

Why people still use “more simple”

As you can see, the rules surrounding comparative adjectives can get pretty confusing. This is why so many people don’t know if they should use simpler or more simple in English! However, to add an extra layer of complexity to it, the Oxford Dictionary lists “more simple” as an acceptable alternative to simpler. What does this mean? It means that, while “simpler” is considered the correct and most common comparative form of the word, “more simple” can still be used. 

Since you technically have the option to use both, let’s look at a few examples to see how the phrases differ:

  • I want to live a simpler life. / I want to live a more simple life.
  • The test was much simpler than he anticipated. / The test was much more simple than he anticipated.
  • She wanted to buy a simpler phone. / She wanted to buy a more simple phone.
  • My grandparents lived in a simpler time. / My grandparents lived in a more simple time.

While both versions of these statements say the same thing, “simpler” allows you to say what you want to say more quickly. It has one less syllable than “more simple,” which makes it sound more natural. So, while you can use both (especially in casual conversations), it’s usually best to get straight to the point and use fewer words!

 

Conclusion

Though the grammar rules are a little vague, figuring out when to use simpler or more simple doesn’t have to be a pain. Just remember that “simpler” is recognized as the correct way to turn simple into a comparative statement or question. Moreover, it just sounds better and more natural. 

However, don’t feel bad if you find yourself using “more simple” in conversation. People will still understand what you’re saying and, more than likely, they won’t even know if they should correct you or not! That said, if you need to make a comparison in formal writing (like an essay), you should always opt for the more correct form. So, when in doubt, just use “simpler.” It’s much simpler that way!

Matthew Jones

Matthew Jones

Matthew Jones is a freelance writer and former English teacher. He enjoys traveling the world, watching movies, and caring for his three toy poodles.
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