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Inflections of Adjectives—
Positive, Comparative, and Superlative

Inflections of Adjectives(Don't let the word "inflection" throw you off; it simply means a change in the form of a word (usually by adding a suffix) to indicate a change in its grammatical function.)

Adjectives undergo a certain change of form to express comparison. In some languages, adjectives have different forms to specify number, gender, and case. English adjectives have no such inflections, but most of them do have three forms to indicate the three degrees: Positive, Comparative, and Superlative.

For instance, if you spoke about two baseball bats of unequal lengths, you might say, "This bat is shorter than that bat;" or, "That bat is longer than this bat." But if you had three different baseball bats, each of unequal lengths, you might say, "This bat is the shortest;" or, "That bat is the longest."

You can compare adjectives in three quick steps.

Step 1: You can say, "This bat is short," meaning that, compared to baseball bats in general, this bat is short.

Step 2: You can say about two unequally long baseball bats, "This bat is shorter than that."

Step 3: You can say about three or more unequally long baseball bats, "This bat is the shortest."

These three steps are called the degrees of comparison. Each degree has a name. Short is the positive degree of the adjective; shorter is the comparative degree; shortest is the superlative degree.

When to use the positive degree:

When the adjective names some quality possessed by the noun, and does not denote the degree, the adjective is in the positive degree:

EX.— This peach is not ripe.

When to use the comparative degree:

When the adjective refers to an object that possesses more of a quality than another object, it is in the comparative degree.

EX.— This is a riper peach than that one.

When to use the superlative degree:

When an adjective denotes a quality as possessed by some object among a number in comparison (two or more), the adjective is in the superlative degree.

EX.— This is the ripest peach in the basket.

How to Compare Adjectives

To compare adjectives, add er to the positive to form the comparative degree; add est to the positive to form the superlative degree.

EX.— coldcolder coldest
EX.— highhigher highest
EX.— widewider widest

Most adjectives of one syllable are compared in this way. Adjectives of more than one syllable are compared in the same way only when the extra syllables er and est fit with the entire word.

EX.— common — commoner — commonest.

On the other hand, dangerous, dangerouser, dangerousest obviously does not work. In such cases to compare adjectives, we need to add the word—more or less—before the positive form to make the comparative degree; and add the word—most or least—before the positive form to make the superlative degree.

EX.—
dangerous — more dangerous — most dangerous
EX.—
dangerous — less dangerous — least dangerous

EX.—
beautiful — more beautiful — most beautiful
EX.—
beautiful — less beautiful — least beautiful

Irregular Comparisons

A few adjectives are compared irregularly:

Positive Comparative Superlative
near nearer nearest, next
far farther, further farthest, furthest
much, many more most
bad, ill worse worst
good, well better best
little lest least

You will discover that you cannot logically compare some adjectives, like square, round, perfect, straight, complete, white, and black. If a thing is round, another thing cannot be rounder. If something is perfect, something else cannot be "most perfect." In actual practice we do compare these words. When we say, "This line is straighter than that; and the last one is straightest of all, we mean that the second line almost approaches absolute straightness, and the third line nearly approaches it.

When you compare an object within its class, use the superlative degree. Do not use such words as other, before, etc.. "Texas is the largest state," is correct. To say, "Texas is the largest of all other states" is incorrect. Texas is not one of the other states.

When you compare an object with the rest of its class, use the comparative degree. Use such words as other, before etc. "Texas is larger than any other state in the U.S.," is correct. To say, " Texas is larger than any state in the U.S.," is incorrect because you would imply that Texas is larger than itself, or that Texas is not part of the U.S.

A few of these words you do not compare in actual speaking. We do not say most vertical, more equal, more infinite, more daily, and so on.

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