Comparative structures in English
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A review of comparative and superlative forms in English, and ways of expressing degree of comparison.
Depending on the person's own language, comparative structures do not generally pose too many problems for non-native English speakers. This is because the structures are often similar, with equivalents (in Dutch and French for example) for the English forms "more than", "-er than", and "as... as", by way of example.
One of the most typical problems for non-native English speakers is knowing when the comparative form of the adjective can take the simple "-er" form, or when the adjective is retained as it is but preceded by the word "more" (for example, we say "safer", but "more dangerous"). The general rule most people are taught is that this depends on the length of the adjective, and overall this holds true. If the adjective is a long word, it is more probable (there's an example already!) that the "more + adjective" form will be used rather than the addition of "-er" onto the end of the word. The latter is thus used for short or fairly short adjectives (long - longer, busy - busier, short - shorter, etc.).
There are exceptions of course, and also irregular forms, that simply have to be learnt. For example, all adjectives ending in "-ful", even relatively short ones, take "more" (e.g. "more sinful"). And irregular forms include some of the most common ones, and therefore the most learnt (good - better, bad - worse).
It should not be forgotten that all colours are adjectives, and these generally take the regular "-er" ending in the comparative form (greener, blacker, whiter, browner). However, with some colours (usually words of more than one syllable) the compound form is preferred (more orange, more purple).
Having established that the basic comparative
structure is thus formed as follows:
In the first two examples above, we could add the word "much" or "far" in front of the comparative form to denote a large difference ("New York is far more dangerous than London") or the word "a bit" or "slightly" to denote a small difference ("New York is slightly more dangerous than London").
Where the sentence begins with a negative form
of the verb as in example 3 above, we add "nearly"
before the comparative to indicate a large difference,
and "quite" to indicate a small difference.
Thus far, we have only dealt with adjectives,
so let us now look briefly at adverbs (words
used to describe the verb). The main rules here
are that adverbs that end in "-ly"
form the comparative with more (e.g. quickly
- more quickly), adverbs that are the same as
adjectives add "-er" (fast - faster),
and that "better" is the comparative
form of both the adjective "good"
and the adverb "well".
Superlative forms of adjectives and adverbs can be summed up in these examples: "He's cleverer than her - he's the cleverest" (adjective). "He works harder than she does. He works the hardest" (adverb).
A useful structure often used in English is
"to be good at..." (something, or