This article by Kerry Maxwell and Lindsay Clandfield covers ways to approach teaching comparatives and superlatives.

Photo that shows comparative and superlative adjectives. Could be a list from a notebook or from the page of a book.

Source: SerjioLe, iStockphoto


One way to describe a person or thing is by saying they have more of a particular quality than someone or something else. To do this, we use comparative adjectives, which are formed either by adding -er at the end of the adjective or placing more before it, for example:

  • This piece of cake is bigger than that one.
  • She is more intelligent than her sister.

It is also possible to describe someone or something by saying they have more of a particular quality than any other. We do this by using superlative adjectives, formed by adding the article the before the adjective and -est at the end or adding the most before the adjective. For example: 

  • This is the biggest piece of cake.
  • She is the most intelligent woman I’ve ever met.

Some rules about forming comparatives and superlatives


1. One-syllable adjectives generally form the comparative by adding -er at the end of the adjective. Some things you need to consider:

  1. If a one-syllable adjective ends with a consonant-vowel-consonant combination, the second vowel must be doubled before adding
    -er (e.g., thithinner, bibigger).
  2. If the one-syllable adjective ends in a silent -e, only -r should be added at the end of the adjective, instead of -er (e.g., nice-nicer, wide-wider).

2. We add the word more before the adjective when it has more than one syllable or to compare two different adjectives:

  • The icing was supposed to be pink and white, but it looked more red than pink.
  • That sofa might look nice, but this one is more comfortable.

3. If the adjective ends in a consonant followed by -y the -y is replaced by an -i before adding -er (e.g., sunny - sunnier, happy - happier).

Type of Adjective: Change Example
1-syllable adjective add -er soft - softer
1-syl adj ends in Cons-Vowel-Cons double the last consonant, add -er big - bigger
1-syl adj ends in -e add -r nice - nicer
2+ syllable adjective add more before adjective comfortable - more comfortable
adjective ends in Consonant + -y change -y for -i, add -er happy - happier

Use of comparatives

  • Just like other adjectives, comparatives can be placed before nouns in the attributive position (e.g., a more intelligent child, a bigger piece of cake).
  • Comparatives can also occur after the verb to be and other linking verbs. Examples:
    • The street has become quieter since they left.
    • You should be more sensible.
  • Comparatives are very commonly followed by than and noun, noun phrase, pronoun, or another clause to describe who the other person or thing involved in the comparison is:
    • John is taller than me.
    • I think that she’s more intelligent than her sister.
    • I think the portions were bigger than they were last time.
    • They gave a better performance than in previous years.
  • Comparatives are often qualified by using words and phrases such as mucha lotfara bit/littleslightly, etc.:
    • You should go by train, it would be much cheaper.
    • Could you be a bit quieter?
    • I’m feeling a lot better.
    • Do you have one that’s slightly bigger?
  • Two comparatives can be contrasted by placing the before them, indicating that a change in one quality is linked to a change in another:
    • The smaller the gift, the easier it is to send.
    • The more stressed you are, the worse it is for your health.
  • Two comparatives can also be linked with and to show a continuing increase in a particular quality:
    • The sea was getting rougher and rougher.
    • Her illness was becoming worse and worse.
    • He became more and more tired as the weeks went by.


1. One-syllable adjectives generally form the superlative by adding the before the adjective and -est at the end of the adjective. Some things you need to consider:

  1. If a one-syllable adjective ends with a consonant-vowel-consonant combination, the second vowel must be doubled before adding -est (e.g., thin - the thinnestbi- the biggest ).
  2. If the one-syllable adjective ends in a silent -e, only -st should be added at the end of the adjective, instead of -est (e.g., nice - the nicest, wid- the widest).

2. We add the most before the adjective when it has more than one syllable:

  • That is the most beautiful dress I've seen.
  • That sofa is the most comfortable in the store.

3. If the adjective ends in a consonant followed by -y the -y is replaced by an -i before adding -est (e.g., sunny - the sunniest, happy - the happiest).

Type of AdjectiveChangeExample
1-syllable adjective add the ______ -est soft - the softest
1-syl adj ends in Cons-Vowel-Cons double the last consonant, add -est big - the biggest
1-syl adj ends in -e add -st nice - the nicest
2+ syllable adjective add the most before adjective comfortable - the most comfortable
adjective ends in Consonant + -y change -y for -i, add -est happy - the happiest

Use of superlatives

  • Like comparatives, superlatives can be placed before nouns in the attributive position, or occur after be and other link verbs:
    • It is the most delicious chocolate cake I’ve ever eaten.
    • Annabel was the youngest.
    • This restaurant is the best.
  • As shown in the second two examples, superlatives are often used on their own if it is clear what or who is being compared. If you want to be specific about what you are comparing, you can do this with a noun or a phrase beginning with in or of:
    • Annabel was the youngest child.
    • Annabel was the youngest of the children.
    • This restaurant is the best in town.
  • Another way of being specific is by placing a relative clause after the superlative:
    • This offer is the best I’m going to get.
  • Note that if the superlative occurs before the noun, in the attributive position, the in or of phrase or relative clause comes after the noun:
    • The bestrestaurant in town.
    • The best offer I’m going to get.
  • Although the usually occurs before a superlative, it is sometimes left out in informal speech or writing:
    • This one seems to be cheapest.
  • However, the cannot be left out when the superlative is followed by an of/in phrase, or a relative clause indicating the group of people or things being compared:
    • This one is the cheapest.
    • This one is cheapest.
    • This one is the cheapest of the new designs. This one is cheapest of the new designs.
    • This one is the cheapest I could find. This one is cheapest I could find.
  • Sometimes possessive pronouns are used instead of the before a superlative:
    • my youngest brother
    • her most valuable piece of jewellery
  • Ordinal numbers are often used with superlatives to indicate that something has more of a particular quality than most others of its kind:
    • It’s the third largest city in the country.
    • The cathedral is the second most popular tourist attraction.
  • In informal conversation, superlatives are often used instead of comparatives when comparing two things. For example, when comparing a train journey and a car journey to Edinburgh, someone might say: the train is quickest, rather than: the train is quicker. Superlatives are not generally used in this way in formal speech and writing.

Other things to consider when working with comparatives and superlatives

  • Two-syllable adjectives ending in -ed-ing-ful, or -less always form the comparative with more and the superlative with most. 
worried more worried the most worried
boring more boring the most boring
careful more careful the most careful
useless more useless the most useless
  • As a general rule, most other two-syllable adjectives also form comparatives and superlatives with more and most, apart from those ending in -y (see point 3 above). However, a few two-syllable adjectives can take either -er/-est or more/most. Here are three examples. 
narrow narrower/more narrow the narrowest/most narrow
simple simpler/more simple the simplest/most simple
quiet quieter/more quiet the quietest/most quiet
  • The only exceptions are some three-syllable adjectives which have been formed by adding the prefix un- to another adjective, especially those formed from an adjective ending in-y. These adjectives can form comparatives and superlatives by using more/most or adding -er/-est. 
unhappy unhappier the unhappiest/most unhappy
unfriendly unfriendlier the unfriendliest/most unfriendly
  •  The following adjectives have irregular comparative and superlative forms:
good better the best
bad worse the worst
far farther/further the farthest/furthest
  •  The adjectives ill and well, describing bad and good health, have irregular comparative forms. The comparative of ill is worse, and the comparative of well is better, (e.g. She’s feeling much better/worse today).
  • The usual comparative and superlative forms of the adjective old are older and oldest. However, the alternative forms elder and eldest are sometimes used. Elder and eldest are generally restricted to talking about the age of people, especially people within the same family, and are not used to talk about the age of things:
    • It’s the oldest eldest castle in Britain.
  • Elder cannot occur in the predicative position after link verbs such as be, become, get, e.g.:
    • We’re all getting older elder.
    • My brother is older elder than me.
  • Comparatives and superlatives of compound adjectives are generally formed by using more and most:
    • Going skiing was the most nerve-wracking experience I’ve had.
  • Some compound adjectives have a first element consisting of an adjective which would normally form a comparative or superlative in one word, either by adding -er/-est, or by an irregular form. Such compound adjectives can, therefore form a comparative/superlative by using these changes to the first adjective, rather than by using more/most.
good-looking better-looking the best-looking
long-lasting longer-lasting the longest-lasting
low-paid lower-paid the lowest-paid
  • Some adjectives which already have a comparative or superlative meaning do not usually occur with -er/-est or more/most, unless we want to give special emphasis, often for humorous effect Common examples of adjectives like these are: completeequalfavourite, and perfect.:
    • Mussels are my most favourite food.

The opposite of comparative and superlative forms

  • Comparative and superlative forms with -er/-est and more/most are always used to talk about a quality which is greater in amount relative to others. If we want to talk about a quality which is smaller in amount relative to others, we use the forms less (the opposite of comparative more) and the least (the opposite of superlative the most). Less is used to indicate that something or someone does not have as much of a particular quality as someone or something else:
    • This sofa is less comfortable.
    • I’ve always been less patient than my sister.
  • The least is used to indicate that something or someone has less of a quality than any other person or thing of its kind:
    • It’s the least expensive way to travel.
    • She was the least intelligent of the three sisters.