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Comparative Adjectives

April 30, 2015

There must be a better way…

After your English language learners are familiar with adjectives in general, introduce them to comparative and superlative adjectives. When we want to compare two people, places, or things in English, we can use comparative adjectives.

The tricky thing for students is learning when to apply the comparative ending -er. I’ve found that presenting the rules in a chart like the one below helps students clearly see when to use -er or more.

Use

Use comparative adjectives to compare two people, places, or things.

Form

1. Chart

Comparative Adjectives chart

Grammar & Usage – Comparative Adjectives

2. Examples

  • Maria is taller than Jack.
  • I feel happier today than I did yesterday.
  • The lead actor on that show is more famous than the lead actress.
  • Sunsets at the beach are more beautiful than sunsets in the city.

Exceptions

Some two‑syllable adjectives don’t have to follow the rules above. For example, we can say friendlier OR more friendly, and simpler OR more simple. Other such adjectives include angry, cruel, handsome, gentle, and quiet.

What about “less”?

Another way to compare nouns in English is to mention when something is less than another thing instead of more. There are two ways to do this:

  1. not as + Adj + as
  2. less + Adj + than

Note that we can’t use -er to mean less; -er only means more. A good rule of thumb is to use not as…as for adjectives with one and two syllables, and less for adjectives with three or more syllables. This will always result in natural sounding comparisons, though it is possible to use not as…as for any adjectives. (Note: not as…as adjectives, along with as…as adjectives, are known as equative adjectives.)

Examples

  • Jack is not as tall as Maria.
  • I didn’t feel as happy yesterday as I do today.
  • Last week’s test wasn’t as simple as this week’s test.
  • Sunsets in the city are less beautiful than at the beach.

You may want to point out to students that there is more than one way to make a comparison in English. For example, Sunsets at the beach are more beautiful than in the city has the same meaning as Sunsets in the city are less beautiful than at the beach.

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Comments (2)

Clarice De Menezes S.(Teacher)

Where can I find material to teach the structure "the more ... the better? ..."

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

Hi Clarice,

At the moment we don't have any materials on the expression "the more ... the better." It's a great idea for a blog post or a Grammar & Usage Resource, so I'll add it to my list! Thanks for the idea. In the meantime, I can tell you that I'd follow the Chicago Manual of Style's guidelines when deciding when to use a comma for this expression:

"A comma is customarily used between clauses of the more . . . the more type. Shorter phrases of that type, however, rarely merit commas." (Section 6.47)

They give the example of "the more the merrier" without a comma, which I would also extend to "the more pizza the better," for example, and their examples for longer expressions have a comma.

Having said that, using a comma for short expressions wouldn't be wrong, but it's just a bit more common without.

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