So this blog post is where I nerd out and rant on the topic of comparatives and superlatives in the English language. They’re just so much more complicated then other languages. For those of you who aren’t as grammar-nerdy as me, comparatives and superlatives are when two or more nouns are compared based solely on their adherence to a single adjective. For example, comparing to shoes based on their adherence to the adjective “small.” You could compare two shoes by saying that one shoe is “smaller” than the other. Or you could compare three or more shoes by saying that one shoe is “the smallest.” So, smaller and smallest are the comparative and superlative forms of the adjective small.
Now, the simplest form of the rule for comparatives and superlatives for English is that you add -er to the end of the adjective for a comparative and -est to the end for the superlative form. However, it’s not nearly as simple as all that. Let me just take you through the journey that I’ve gone on with my students this year.
Day #1 – Adjectives
The first step in teaching comparatives and superlatives was learning what an adjective is. Simple definition is that adjectives describe nouns. They tell you something more about a noun. Back to the shoe example. What kind of shoe is it? It is a small shoe. The adjective simply tells you more about the noun. Even this step is not as simple as it seems. If the students coming in don’t have mastery of the concept of what a noun is, well then the whole lesson is shot.
Day #10ish – Intro to Comparatives and Superlatives
After about two weeks (10 school days) of rehashing nouns and then masteringish adjectives, we moved on to introducing comparatives. Of course, the rule I taught was that you simply add -er or -est to the end of the adjective to make it comparative or superlative. Pretty easy to check that box. I put three pictures of trees on the board. I tell them our adjective is “tall.” So, the first tree is taller, the second tree is..pause waiting for student to answer..taller. Exactly. We simply add -er. And the third tree is the..pause again..tallest. Fantastic. Simply throw a good old -est on it and here we go.
We repeated this exercise with different vehicles and the adjective “fast.” Again, simple. Simply add -er or -est.
Day #11ish – Words to double the final consonant
The next day, for our opener, I decided I would go off script a bit and let the students pick their own adjectives for the warm-up practice on comparatives and superlatives. I gave them a pretty broad theme. They had to choose three animals and compare them using the same adjectives. Student A chose an elephant, a lion, and a bear. He was using the adjective big. So he wrote. “A lion is big. A bear is biger. The elephant is the bigest.”…pause. Things just got a little complicated. So we stopped and explained that sometimes, you have to double the last letter in the adjective before adding -er or -est. The next few days were spent covering adjectives like big, wet, fit, flat, fat, thin, etc where you have to double the final consonant. I was impressed. Our students tried to analyze when to or not to double the final consonant. They came up with words that end with t, n, and g. I was ok with that until….
Day #14ish – Words that don’t double the final consonant
So on day 14, we were talking about animals again. We decided to compare animals based on speed. Student B wrote, “A deer is fast, a bear is fastter, but a cheetah is the fasttest.”….pause. Things just got more complicated. Now we have to spend a half hour talking about how if there are two consonants at the end of the word than you don’t double the last consonant anymore even if it’s g or t. So long doesn’t turn into longger, fast into fastest, etc. Also, if the final consonant is preceded by two consecutive vowels, you also do not double the last consonant…even if it is a g or t. So sweet does not turn to sweetter nor does clean become cleannest. So now, students not only have to look at the last letter of the word to determine whether or not to double the consonant but also have to look at the previous two letters.
Day #? – Words that end in vowels
Up until this point, we’ve only really dealt with adjectives that end in consonants. So now, what do we do with words that end in vowels. My students were comparing puppies and kittens and saying that they were cuteer and the cuteest. (Adding -er and -est to the end of words). Ok. So the rule we had to teach next was that if an adjective already ended in an e, don’t add another e. We’re good.
Day #LordHelpMe – Words that End in -y…mostly
So then there’s the letter y that is special in that it is sometimes a consonant and sometimes and vowel. Well the next rule we had to teach was that if a letter ends in a y, you change the y to an i and then add -er or -est….except sometimes. Like the word shy. If you wanted to say one boy was more shy than the other you would still write that he was shyer.
So, just to count, we’re now on 5 different possible ways to change an adjective into a comparative or superlative.
Day #pleasemakeitstop – Syllable Counting
At this point I’m just about done with this. However, now we get into longer adjectives. As in adjectives that have more syllables. Usually, if an adjective has either one or two syllables, you follow the above rules and add -er or -est in whatever form is required. Then, usually, if it has more than two syllables, you simply add the words “more” or “the most” in front of the adjective. So, if you wanted to to compare how complicated two situations were, you wouldn’t say one was complicateder than the other, you would say it was more complicated. However, this is not a hard and fast rule. Some adjectives follow the long adjective rule and some do not. For example, the correct comparative form of the word sincere is sincerer. On the other hand, the correct comparative of the word anxious is more anxious….And students are simply expected to know the difference because there is no way that we have time to learn every occurrence of each way.
So now we’re at six and kind of seven rules.
Finally, we got to the irregulars. Adjectives that follow no rules when used as a comparative or superlative. Luckily, at least half of the students in my class know these intuitively. For example the adjective many. It does not turn into manyer, or manier. You wouldn’t say, “I made many writing errors but she made manier.” You would say “She made more and he made the most.” Like I said, by the time students have made it to me, they usually know most of these implicitly….. However, there are some, like me, that are badder than others at it and really struggle to get gooder at it even in adulthood. Happy grammaring everyone.