A Guide to Comparative Adjectives

Although the term “comparative adjectives” may sound complicated, these are actually common words that English speakers use every day. If you have ever used a word such as “faster” or a phrase such as “most interesting”, then you have used a comparative adjective. We will examine the different ways to form a comparative adjective, highlight some exceptions to the rules, and show you some common mistakes and how to fix them.

First, we start with a regular adjective…

Before we go any further, let’s look at some ordinary, non-comparative adjectives. The number of syllables in these adjectives is important, so we are dividing them into two categories:

  • One-syllable adjectives: tall, short, long, cheap, big, small, large, fast, rare, loud, soft, fat, thin, hot, cold, nice, mean, tight, loose, dark, light, old, young
  • Adjectives with more than one syllable: beautiful, expensive, prestigious, handsome, common, unusual, athletic, talented, skilled, intelligent, interesting, difficult, careful, elaborate, intricate, ordinary, extraordinary

When do we use comparative adjectives?

When we need to use comparative adjectives, we take ordinary adjectives like the ones listed above and change them. Why do we need to change them? Let’s take a look at a very basic example sentence:

Naomi is tall.

Okay, that’s a good, clear sentence. But let’s imagine that Naomi is on a basketball team where nearly all of the players would be considered tall. We want to know how tall Naomi is in comparison to her teammates. This is where we would make some adjustments to the word “tall” and transform it into a comparative adjective.

What is a comparative adjective?

Comparative adjectives are words that we use in contexts where we are comparing two characteristics or things. They take on different forms depending on the number of syllables in the original adjective.

Although there are exceptions (and we will go over those in a moment), if we want to make a comparative adjective out of an ordinary one, we usually do the following:

  • If the original adjective has one syllable, we add “-er”.
  • If the original adjective has more than one syllable, we use the word “more” followed by the adjective itself.

Let’s go back to our earlier example sentence:

Naomi is tall.

Now, let’s turn “tall” into a comparative adjective. Since “tall” has just one syllable, we add “-er”:

Naomi is taller than Ayesha.

Both Naomi and Ayesha are taller than most of the girls in their school.

Suzette is taller than all of the girls on the school basketball team, but she does not play any sports.

Next, let’s take an adjective with more than one syllable and add “more” to transform it into a comparative adjective.

Naomi is a talented basketball player. (Here, our original adjective is “talented”.)

Naomi is a more talented basketball player than Maggie. (Here, we add “more” in front of “talented” to form a comparative adjective.)

Here are some additional example sentences using both types of comparative adjectives:

It’s colder in the garage than it is in the house.

The red dress is more expensive than the yellow one.

Mr. Garcia’s dog is larger than our dog.

In this garden, squirrels are more common than groundhogs.

Maggie just bought a larger gym bag that has plenty of space for her stuff. (In this sentence, the comparison isn’t as obvious. Rather, it is implied that Maggie’s new gym bag is larger than her old one.)

For Ayesha, tennis is a more difficult sport than basketball.

The Witherwood Preparatory Academy is a more prestigious private school than St. Mary’s, but St. Mary’s offers a greater variety of sports and other extracurricular activities.

Exceptions and quirks

The English language is quirky. It seems that there are always exceptions to the rules. Although most comparative adjectives follow the patterns described above, some of them do not.

Sometimes you need to double the final consonant. Let’s look at what happens when we try to form a comparative adjective from words such as “big”, “hot”, “fat”, and “sad”. The spellings “biger”, “hoter”, “fater”, and “sader” are incorrect, as this would change the pronunciation of these words.

Thus, when we see a one-syllable adjective that ends in a single consonant and is preceded by a single vowel, we double the final consonant before adding the “-er” to form the comparative.

To make this clearer, we’ll see how this works when both the original adjective and the comparative are used within the same sentence:

This cake is really big, but a wedding cake is bigger.

It’s hot out today, but tomorrow it’s supposed to be hotter.

Farmer John’s pig is fat, but Farmer Mae’s pig is fatter.

Ayesha was sad when the team lost the championship game, but Maggie was sadder.

Be on the lookout for two-syllable adjectives that end in “-y”. Earlier, we saw how we use “more” plus the original adjective to form a comparative when an adjective has two or more syllables. However, an important exception to this rule involves two-syllable adjectives that end in “-y” (e.g., “early”, “funny”, “lazy”, “busy”).

For adjectives like these, the “-y” is changed to “-i” before adding the comparative ending “-er”. You can see how this works in the following examples:

The game started earlier than usual.

I thought the sequel was funnier than the original film.

My son is lazier than my daughter.

Since it’s the holiday season, our store is much busier now.

Common mistakes with comparative adjectives

Below are some errors with comparative adjectives that our TextRanch editors sometimes see from English language learners as well as from native speakers. You will also find examples of both the incorrect and the correct forms.

Mistake #1: Using two comparative forms together (also known as double comparatives)

  • Incorrect: Maggie is more older than Suzette.
  • Correct: Maggie is older than Suzette.

Mistake #2: Not changing the “-y” to “-i” before adding “-er”

  • Incorrect: Maggie is more happy now because she scored high on her college entrance exams.
  • Correct: Maggie is happier now because she scored high on her college entrance exams.

Mistake #3: Adding “-er” to adjectives with two or more syllables instead of using “more”

  • Incorrect: This job candidate is interestinger than the other ones.
  • Correct: This job candidate is more interesting than the other ones.

Mistake #4: Forgetting to double the final consonant of certain “-er” comparatives

  • Incorrect: I need a thiner piece of wood for this project.
  • Correct: I need a thinner piece of wood for this project.

If you are having difficulty writing comparative adjectives, click the blue box below. Whether you are working on a business email, an academic paper, a cover letter, or just a quick note to a friend, our TextRanch editors are available to help you 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

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