Friday, January 15, 2016

The Grass Is Always Greener: Comparatives in English

In almost every language, there is the notion of comparative adjectives. As human beings, we are very interested in whether something is bigger, smaller, longer, shorter, hotter, colder, fatter, or thinner than something else.

All of the words in the list above were comparatives, which are used when you consider two things and compare them. Pretty obvious, right? In English, comparatives generally consist of an adjective with the -er suffix at the end. Of course, much like English gerunds, certain spelling rules apply.

One of these rules involves doubling the final consonant. Consider the adjectives big, hot, fat, and thin from the examples above. In these cases, since the adjective is short and uses a consonant, a vowel, and another consonant, the final consonant is doubled. Therefore big becomes bigger, hot becomes hotter, and fat becomes fatter. See what happened there?

Of course, not all comparatives are alike. For instance, when adjectives get to be too long (two or more syllables, to be precise), English decides that the -er suffix will not suffice. In these instances, the word "more" is used. Consider beautiful, one of the nicest words in English. In this situation, you have to say that something is more beautiful than something else.

That's not all of the rules though, as there are always exceptions. One of the most commonly used comparatives in English is better, the comparative form of good. Bad also follows an irregular pattern by becoming worse when comparative. Adverbs follow the same rules too, with well becoming better and badly becoming worse when used as comparatives.

If you're curious to learn more about the rules involved in the creation of English superlatives like tallest and shortest, be sure to check back next week!