Comparison of special adjectives

(Adjectives with special comparative and superlative forms)

Table of contents – comparison of special adjectives

On this page you will find the following:

  1. Adjectives with more than one form
  2. Particularities in the comparison
  3. Adjectives that are not comparable
  4. Further explanations and exercises

Which adjectives have more than one comparative or superlative form?

Regarding English comparison, most of the adjectives follow the fixed rule with either ‘-er/-estormore/most’ when forming their comparative or superlative form. However, some exist that can be compared by using both variants.

  • As a consequence, the example sentence: “The new colleague is polite.”
    may appear in two different ways to make a comparison:
    • “The new colleague is more polite than the one we had before.”
    • “The new colleague is politer than the one we had before.”
  • Take a look at the following list of examples showing additional adjectives that can be compared with ‘-er/-estas well as with ‘more/most’. There is no difference in meaning for either form:
    • likelylikelier, likeliest – or – more likely, most likely
    • suresurer, surest – or – more sure, most sure
    • commoncommoner, commonest – or – more common, most common
    • severeseverer, severest – or – more severe, most severe
    • simplesimpler, simplest – or – more simple, most simple
    • pleasantpleasanter, pleasantest – or – more pleasant, most pleasant
    • politepoliter, politest – or – more polite, most polite
    • subtlesubtler, subtlest – or – more subtle, most subtle
    • stupidstupider, stupidest – or – more stupid, most stupid
    • quietquieter, quietest – or – more quiet, most quiet
    • clevercleverer, cleverest – or – more clever, most clever
    • shallowshallower, shallowest – or – more shallow, most shallow

Which adjectives are irregular or special in the comparison?

Moreover, some English adjectives are compared completely irregularly, which means that they have special or unique forms in their comparative or superlative degrees. There are no rules for these particular forms; the spelling and meaning must simply be learned. Compare the following table:

Adjectives with irregular forms in comparison

Adjective (positive) Comparative form Superlative form
good better the best
well better the best
bad worse the worst
many more (the) most*
much more (the) most*
little less(er) the least
little smaller the smallest
well-known better-known the best-known

* These two forms are often used without the definite article ‘the’.

Adjective forms that differ in meaning

Adjective (positive) Comparative form Superlative form Additional information
far farther farthest used for distances
far further furthest used for distances and in the sense of ‘more’
near nearer nearest also used for distances
near next directly adjacent
late later latest usually employed for temporal meanings
late latter last referring to things in sequences
late latest meaning ‘current’ or ‘newest’
old older oldest expressing age in general
old elder eldest expressing age too, but almost only used for relatives, e.g., ‘my elder brother’

Which adjectives cannot be compared?

In English grammar, it is essential to know that not all adjectives can be compared. Some exclude a form of comparison because of their meaning; others already represent the greatest degree. Such adjectives that cannot be compared are also called absolute adjectives. Read the following examples for details:

  • For instance, adjectives that already represent the greatest degree cannot be used for making comparisons:
    • perfect
    • complete
    • total
    • empty
  • Or adjectives that cannot express comparative forms due to their meaning:
    • pregnant
    • equal
    • triangular
    • ideal
  • These also include nationalities:
    • British
    • German
    • French
    • Argentinian
  • Likewise, colours cannot be compared:
    • blue
    • green
    • yellow
    • auburn

Further explanations referring to the ‘Comparison of special adjectives’

The following explanations relate to the topic ‘Adjectives with special forms in the comparison’ and may also be interesting for you: