English Grammar

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CHAPTER 22.  ADJECTIVES USED IN COMPARISONS: PART 1

As well as being used to describe persons and things, adjectives which refer to qualities can also be used to compare two or more different persons or things. For instance, in the following sentences, the adjectives used in comparisons are underlined.
e.g. He is as tall as his brother.
      She is older than her sister.
      They are the youngest students in the class.

 

1. Positive forms of adjectives preceded and followed by As

The unaltered form of an adjective is often referred to as the positive form of the adjective. In the preceding chapter, only the positive form of adjectives was used.

The positive forms of adjectives referring to qualities can be used in making certain types of comparisons. For example, in the following sentences, the positive forms of the adjectives proud and intelligent are combined with the word as in order to make comparisons.
e.g. She is as proud as a peacock.
      They are as intelligent as I am.

When used in making comparisons, the positive form of an adjective is usually employed as a predicate adjective, preceded and followed by the word as. This construction is summarized below, followed by examples.

  noun, pronoun or  to be    positive    noun, pronoun or
  other expression   +  or other   +  as   +  form of   +  as   +  other expression
  representing 1st  linking    adjective    representing 2nd
  thing being compared   verb        thing being compared
      
  Swans  are  as  white  as  snow.
  Tom  is  as  tall  as  his father.

This type of construction can be used to indicate that the things being compared are equal in some respect. For instance, the first example indicates that swans and snow are equally white. The second example indicates that Tom and his father are equally tall.

The sentence She is as proud as a peacock gives an example of a traditional English saying which compares a person having a certain quality to an animal which is noted for possessing that quality. In the following sentences, the traditional expressions are underlined.
e.g. He is as clever as a monkey.
      She is as wise as an owl.
      My sister looks as pretty as a princess.

The use of this construction with as to compare two different types of thing, such as a person and an animal, results in a type of comparison referred to as a simile.

See Exercise 1.

The meaning of an expression using as, followed by an adjective, followed by as can be qualified by adverbs such as not, almost, twice, three times, half, one-third and so on. The adverbs in the following sentences are underlined.
e.g. He is not as hard-working as his brother.
      She is almost as tall as he is.
      Her sister is twice as old as I am.
      A millimeter is one-tenth as long as a centimeter.

As shown below, in such a construction, the adverb is placed before the first occurrence of the word as.

  noun, pronoun or            noun, pronoun or
  other expression  to be      positive    other expression
  representing       +  or other   +  adverb   +  as   +  form of   +  as   +  representing
  1st thing  linking      adjective    2nd thing
  being compared  verb          being compared
       
  He  is  nearly  as  clever  as  his uncle.
  The trees  are  not  as  tall  as  the house.


See Exercise 2.

a. The positive form combined with a noun
The construction as, followed by an adjective, followed by as can also be combined with a noun, as shown in the following examples.
e.g. Gail is as strong a swimmer as Beth.
      Mabel is as clever an administrator as Robin.
      The girls are as good students as the boys.

In the first example, Gail is being compared as a swimmer to Beth. In the second example, Mabel is being compared as an administrator to Robin. In the third example, the girls are being compared as students to the boys.

As illustrated in these examples, if the noun following the adjective is a singular countable noun, it must be separated from the adjective by the indefinite article a or an. The position of a or an is indicated in the summary below.

      positive  a or     
    as   +  form of    +  an     +  noun    +  as 
      adjective       
             
  He is  as  fine  a  man  as  his father.
  She is  as  good  an  instructor  as  her colleague.

In the case of plural nouns, no article is required.
e.g. The boys are as reliable workers as one can find.
      They are as powerful athletes as their competitors.

See Exercise 3.

b. The use of ellipsis
The construction as followed by an adjective, followed by as, can also be combined with longer phrases and clauses, as illustrated in the following examples.
e.g. New York is as distant from San Francisco as Boston is from London.
      Music is as important to Cora as literature is to her brother.

In the first example, the distance of New York from San Francisco is being compared to the distance of Boston from London. In the second example, the importance of music to Cora is being compared to the importance of literature to her brother.

The preceding examples illustrate the use of ellipsis. The sentences could also be written as follows. The words which would usually be omitted are enclosed in square brackets.
e.g. New York is as distant from San Francisco as Boston is [distant] from London.
      Music is as important to Cora as literature is [important] to her brother.
In such sentences, the adjective in the second part of the sentence is usually omitted, in order to make the sentence less awkward.

Ellipsis is also commonly used following a noun representing the second thing being compared. For instance, in the following sentences, the final verbs are omitted.
e.g. He is as tall as his brother.
      I am as good a swimmer as her sisters.

These sentences could also be written:
e.g. He is as tall as his brother is.
      I am as good a swimmer as her sisters are.

In informal English, the final verb is usually not omitted following a personal pronoun representing the second thing being compared.
e.g. I am as tall as he is.
      She is as good a swimmer as I am.

However, in formal English, the final verb following a personal pronoun representing the second thing being compared is sometimes omitted.
e.g. I am as tall as he.
      She is as good a swimmer as I.

c. The use of the subjective case
As shown above, when a personal pronoun is used in a comparison to represent the second thing being compared, the subjective case of the pronoun should be used. The reason for this is that the pronoun is the subject of a verb, even when the verb is omitted by means of ellipsis.

In informal English, the objective case of such personal pronouns is sometimes used.
e.g. I am as tall as him.
      She is as good as swimmer as me.
However, this use of the objective case is considered to be grammatically incorrect.

See Exercise 4.

 

2. Comparative and superlative forms of adjectives which use endings

As pointed out in the discussion on the possessive forms of nouns, some elements of English grammar are derived from Teutonic languages, such as German, while other elements are derived from Romance languages, particularly French.

Many English adjectives follow the model of French adjectives. These adjectives are combined with adverbs in order to express different types of comparison. In the following examples, the adjectives careful and excitable are combined with the adverbs more and most.
e.g. She is more careful than I am.
      He is the most excitable boy in the class.

However, in general, the shortest and most commonly used English adjectives follow the model of languages such as German. These adjectives use endings in order to express different types of comparison.
e.g. She is taller than I am.
      He is the oldest boy in the class.

The adjectives which use endings in order to express different types of comparison include most one-syllable adjectives, and two-syllable adjectives ending in y. For example:
      brave
      tall
      easy
      happy

In the above examples, brave and tall are one-syllable adjectives, while easy and happy are two-syllable adjectives ending in y.

A few other two-syllable adjectives are also sometimes used with endings. For example:
      able
      simple
      clever
      quiet
      narrow
      shallow

It should be noted that one-syllable past participles used as adjectives are usually not used with endings.

a. Comparative forms of adjectives which use endings
The comparative form of an adjective is most often used to compare things which differ in some respect. In the following examples, the comparative forms of adjectives are underlined.
e.g. Louis is younger than Mark.
      You are a better actor than he is.

The comparative form of adjectives which use endings is formed with the ending er. As illustrated below, the spelling rules which apply when adding the ending er to an adjective are the same as those which apply when adding the ending ed to a verb.

i. Spelling Rules
In most cases, the ending er is simply added to the positive form of the adjective. For example:

Positive FormComparative Form
  fast  faster
  strong  stronger
  tall  taller
  young  younger

However, when an adjective ends in a silent e, the silent e is dropped before the ending er is added. For example:

Positive FormComparative Form
  brave  braver
  close  closer
  late  later

When an adjective ends in y preceded by a consonant, the y is changed to i before the ending er is added. For example:

Positive FormComparative Form
  dry  drier
  early  earlier
  easy  easier

When an adjective ends in a single consonant other than w, x or y, following a single stressed vowel, the final consonant is doubled before the ending er is added. For example:

Positive FormComparative Form
  big  bigger
  hot  hotter
  sad  sadder

When an adjective ends in w, x or y, following a single stressed vowel, the final consonant is not doubled before the ending er is added. For example:

Positive FormComparative Form
  slow  slower
  lax  laxer
  grey  greyer

It should be kept in mind that when an adjective ends in a single consonant following two vowels, the final consonant is not doubled before the ending er is added. For example:

Positive FormComparative Form
  loud  louder
  neat  neater
  soon  sooner


See Exercise 5.

ii. Irregular adjectives
A few of the adjectives which are used with endings have irregular comparative forms. The comparative forms of the irregular English adjectives are as follows.

Positive FormComparative Form
  bad  worse
  far  farther or further
  good  better
  little  less
  many  more
  much  more


As shown above, the adjective far has two comparative forms. The distinction is sometimes made that farther is used to refer to physical distances, while further is used to refer to figurative distances. For example:
      The farther side of the river is more picturesque than this side.
      Nothing could have been further from my mind.

It should be noted that the adjectives many and much both have the same comparative form, more.

See Exercise 6.

iii. The comparative form followed by Than
When used in comparisons, the comparative forms of adjectives are usually followed by the word than. For instance, the way in which two things differ in some respect can be expressed by using the comparative form of an adjective as a predicate adjective followed by than.
e.g. Paul is wiser than Greg.
      The tree is taller than the house.
The first sentence indicates that Paul possesses greater wisdom than Greg. The second sentence indicates that the tree possesses greater height than the house.

This type of construction is summarized below, followed by examples.

  noun, pronoun or  to be  comparative    noun, pronoun or
  other expression    +  or other    +  form of         +  than    +  other expression
  representing 1st  linking  adjective    representing 2nd
  thing being compared   verb      thing being compared
         
  Jill  is  shorter  than  Maureen.
  Ice  feels  colder  than  snow.
  Driving a car  is  easier  than  riding a horse.


See Exercise 7.

iv. The comparative form followed by a noun, followed by Than
The comparative form of an adjective followed by than can also be combined with a noun.
e.g. She is a better cook than her sister.
      He has wiser ideas than they do.

It should be noted that in this type of construction, when a singular countable noun is used after the adjective, the comparative form of the adjective follows the indefinite article a or an. This position of a or an is indicated in the summary below.

      a or  comparative     
    verb    +  an    +  form of      +  noun    +  than
        adjective     
             
  Kate  is  a  braver  person  than  you are.
  Steel  is  a  stronger  material  than  iron.
  He  has  a  busier  schedule  than  I do.

It should be noted that this position of a or an is in contrast to the word order found in the construction with as. For instance, in the following examples, the adjectives are underlined and the indefinite article a is printed in bold type.
e.g. Kate is as brave a person as Robin.
      Kate is a braver person than I am.

In the case of nouns which are uncountable or plural, no article is required. In the following examples, the uncountable or plural nouns preceding the word than are underlined.
e.g. We produce sweeter honey than they do.
      They are better actors than we are.
      She has warmer gloves than her friend does.

See Exercise 8.

The comparative form of an adjective followed by than can also be combined with longer phrases and clauses, as illustrated in the following examples.
e.g. The air is fresher in the mountains than in the valleys.
      The work seems easier once one becomes familiar with it than it does at first.

v. The use of ellipsis
In comparisons using the comparative form of an adjective, the second half of the comparison is often omitted completely, when it is considered obvious what is meant. In each of the following examples, the part of the comparison which might normally be omitted is enclosed in square brackets.
e.g. Things could get worse [than they are now].
      I do not want to walk much further [than this].
      Would you like more milk [than you already have]?

vi. The use of the subjective case
In comparisons using than, personal pronouns following than should be in the subjective case.
e.g. I am taller than he is.
      She is a better student than I am.

In formal English, the final verb of such sentences is sometimes omitted.
e.g. I am taller than he.
      She is a better student than I.

In informal English, the objective case of a personal pronoun is often used after than.
e.g. I am taller than him.
      She is a better student than me.
However, this use of the objective case is considered to be grammatically incorrect.

See Exercise 9.

vii. Progressive comparisons
As well as being used in combination with than to compare objects which differ in some respect, the comparative form of an adjective can also be used to describe a characteristic which is becoming progressively more pronounced.
e.g. The waves are growing rougher and rougher.
      The sounds became fainter and fainter.

The first example indicates that the waves are growing progressively rougher than they were before. The second example indicates that the sounds became progressively fainter than they were before. The meaning expressed in these two examples can also be expressed as follows.
e.g. The waves are growing increasingly rough.
      The sounds became increasingly faint.

In this type of construction, the comparative form of an adjective is used as a predicate adjective, and is repeated. The two occurrences of the adjective are connected by the word and. This construction is summarized below, followed by examples.

  noun, pronoun or  linking verb,  comparative    comparative
  other expression    +  such as       +  form of       +  and    +  form of
  representing thing  to grow or  adjective    adjective
  being described  to become     
         
  The noise  is becoming  louder  and  louder.
  The lights  grew  brighter  and  brighter.

In informal English, the verb to get is often used in this type of construction.
e.g. The noise is getting louder and louder.
      The lights got brighter and brighter.

See Exercise 10.

b. Superlative forms of adjectives which use endings
The superlative form of an adjective is used to describe something which possesses a characteristic in the greatest degree. In the following examples, the superlative forms of the adjectives are underlined.
e.g. Louis is the youngest boy in our class.
      She is the best actress I have ever seen.

i. Spelling rules
The superlative form of adjectives which use endings is formed with the ending est. As illustrated in the following table, the spelling rules for adding the ending est to the positive form of an adjective are the same as those which apply when adding the ending er.

Illustration of Spelling Rules for Adjectives which use Endings

Final Letter(s) of Positive Form of AdjectivePositive FormComparative FormSuperlative Form
  two consonants (other than y)  fast  faster  fastest
  y preceded by a consonant  dry  drier  driest
  silent e  brave  braver  bravest
  one consonant preceded by 2 vowels  loud  louder  loudest
  w, x or y preceded by a vowel  new  newer  newest
  one consonant (other than w, x or y),  fat  fatter  fattest
    preceded by a single stressed vowel     


See Exercise 11.

ii. Irregular adjectives
As can be seen from the following table, the superlative forms of the English irregular adjectives are closely related to the comparative forms of these adjectives.

English Irregular Adjectives

Positive FormComparative FormSuperlative Form
  bad  worse  worst
  far  farther or further  farthest or furthest
  good  better  best
  little  less  least
  many  more  most
  much  more  most

It should be noted that the adjective far has two superlative forms, farthest and furthest, corresponding to the two comparative forms farther and further; and also that the adjectives many and much share the same superlative form, most, corresponding to the comparative form more.

See Exercise 12.

iii. The superlative form preceded by The
The superlative forms of adjectives are usually preceded by the, and followed by the nouns they modify. For example, in the following sentences, the superlative forms tallest and fastest are preceded by the and followed by the nouns boy and runner.
e.g. Frank is the tallest boy in the class.
      Nancy is the fastest runner on the team.
The first example indicates that no other boy in the class is as tall as Frank. The second example indicates that no one else on the team is as fast a runner as Nancy.

This type of construction is summarized below, followed by examples.

      superlative   
    the    +  form of       +  noun 
      adjective   
         
  This is  the  newest  building  in the city.
  They are  the  best  students  I have met.

It should be noted that this use of the is consistent with the previously discussed use of the to refer to things which are considered unique in some way.

See Exercises 13 and 14.

It should also be noted that the superlative forms of adjectives can be preceded by possessive adjectives, instead of by the definite article the. In the following examples, the possessive adjectives are underlined.
e.g. My worst suspicions were aroused.
      He promised to give it his closest attention.
      Jack's best friend is a member of the hockey team.

iv. The use of ellipsis
When the superlative forms of adjectives are employed to make comparisons, ellipsis is commonly used in the second part of the comparisons. The following are examples of the use of ellipsis in this type of comparison.
e.g. She is the best doctor I know.
      This is the worst thing that could have happened.

These two sentences could also be written as follows. The words which would usually be omitted are enclosed in square brackets.
e.g. She is the best doctor [of all the doctors that] I know.
      This is the worst thing [of all the things] that could have happened.

It should be noted that the noun following the superlative form of an adjective is often omitted, when it is obvious what is meant. This is illustrated in the following examples.
e.g. That star is the brightest.
      These cookies are the best.

These sentences could also be written as follows. The nouns which would usually be omitted are enclosed in square brackets.
e.g. That star is the brightest [star].
      These cookies are the best [cookies].

v. The comparison of one or more things with a group
When one or more things are compared with a group to which they do not belong, the comparative form of an adjective is normally used.
e.g. Alan is younger than all the other boys in the class.
In this example, Alan is being compared with all the other boys in the class. Thus, he is being compared with a group to which he does not belong, and the comparative form younger is used.

In general, the presence of the word other in the second half of a comparison usually indicates that one or more things are being compared with a group to which they do not belong.

In contrast, when one or more things are compared with members of a group to which they belong, the superlative form of an adjective is normally used.
e.g. Alan is the youngest of all the boys in the class.
In this example, Alan is being compared with members of the group identified as all the boys in the class. This is a group to which he belongs. Therefore, the superlative form youngest is used.

The following examples provide a further illustration of the difference between the two types of comparison.
e.g. The girls are neater than the boys.
      The girls are the best students in the school.

In the first example, the girls are being compared with the boys, a group to which they do not belong. Therefore, the comparative form neater is used.

In the second example, the girls are being compared with members of a group consisting of all the students in the school, a group to which the girls belong. Therefore, the superlative form best is used.

 

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