Technical English – II – Lecture Notes
DEGREE OF COMPARISON
In English grammar the degree of comparison of an adjective or adverb describes the relational value of one thing with something in another clause of a sentence. An adjective may simply describe a quality, (the positive); it may compare the quality with that of another of its kind (comparative degree); and it may compare the quality with many or all others (superlative degree). In other languages it may describe a very large degree of a particular quality (in Semitic linguistics, called an elative).
The degree of comparison may be expressed morphologically, or syntactically. In English, for example, most monosyllabic and some disyllabic adjectives have morphological degrees of comparison: green (positive), greener (comparative), greenest (superlative); pretty, prettier, prettiest; while most polysyllabic adjectives use syntax: complex, more complex, most complex.
- The positive degree is the most basic form of the adjective, positive because it does not relate to any superior or inferior qualities of other things in speech.
- The comparative degree denotes a greater amount of a quality relative to something else. The phrase “Anna is taller than her father” means that Anna's degree of tallness is greater than her father's degree of tallness.
- The superlative degree denotes the most, the largest, etc., by which it differs from other things.
Comparative and superlative adjectives: formation
The comparative is formed with –er or more; the superlative is formed with –est or most. One syllable adjectives like big and fast tend to prefer –er and –est. Larger ones like beautiful and carefully take more and most.
The grammatical category which expresses the degree to which some quality is present. English adjectives and adverbs commonly distinguish three degrees: the positive (the basic form), the comparative (expressing a higher degree than is present in something else) and the superlative (expressing a maximal degree).
The comparative is formed with '-er' or with 'more'. The superlative is formed with '-est' or with 'most'. Short words like tall and short tend to prefer –er and –est; longer ones like beautiful and carefully take more and most.
- John is tall (positive).
- Peter is taller (comparative) than John.
- Mike is the tallest (superlative) man I know.
- Ann is beautiful (positive).
- Mary is more beautiful (comparative) than Ann.
- Alice is the most beautiful (superlative) girl in the class.
The term comparative refers to that form of an adjective or an adverb which is constructed either with –er or with more and which serves to express a higher degree of the quality denoted by the base word.
Examples are: bigger from big, worse from bad, more beautiful from beautiful and more carefully from carefully.
- She is taller than her husband.
- Russian is more difficult than Spanish.
English also has a comparative of inferiority, constructed with less, as in less interesting.
That form of an adjective or an adverb expressing the highest degree.
For tall, the superlative is tallest; for good, it is best; for beautiful, it is most beautiful; for carefully, it is most carefully.
Comparison using positive adjectives and adverbs
Positive adjectives and adverbs can be used for comparing. Several different grammatical structures are possible.
As … as …
This structure is used to say that people, things, actions or events are equal in a particular way.
- A car is as fast as a bus.
- Alice is as beautiful as Mary.
- Tom is as tall as Harry.
If we want to say that people, things etc are unequal in a particular way, we can use not so … as … or not as … as …
- Tom is not as/so tall as Harry.
- A car is not as/so fast as a train.
- Alice is not as/so beautiful as Susie.
No other as … as …
This structure can be used to compare one person or thing with the whole group that she/he/it belongs to.
- No other girl is as intelligent as Alice.
- No other metal is as useful as iron.
- No other river is as long as the Niles.
As much/many … as …/as few/little … as…
This structure is used to make a comparison of quantity.
- I earn as much money as you.
- Alice has as many children as Mary.
- Tom earns as much as Harry.
- We have as many cars as them.
- They have as few visitors as we have.
- They have as little money as we have.
In an informal style, we use object pronouns (us, them, him etc.) after as. In a more formal style, subject pronouns are used usually with verbs.
- I earn as much money as he does.
- We have as many children as they have.
Not as much/many … as …
This structure can be used to say that quantities are not equal in a particular way.
- He does not earn as much as I do.
- Harry does not eat as much food as Tom does.
- We do not have as many visitors as them.
Comparison using comparative adjectives and adverbs
To say that people, things etc are unequal in a particular way, we can use comparative adjectives/adverbs.
- She is older than me.
- Tom is taller than his brothers.
- Iron is more useful than any other metal.
- He is cleverer than her.
In an informal style, object pronouns are used after than. In a more formal style, subject pronouns are used usually with verbs.
- He is cleverer than she is.
- He earns more than I do.
We can use double comparatives (…er and …er or more and more …) to say that something is changing.
- You are getting fatter and fatter.
- We are going more and more slowly.
The + comparative expression + subject + verb
We can use comparatives with the … the … to say that things change or vary together. Note the word order in both clauses.
- The more I study, the less I learn. (NOT … I learn the less.)
- The older I get, the happier I am. (NOT … I am the happier.)
- More can be used with a noun in this structure.The more money he makes, the more useless things he buys
Comparison using superlative adjectives and adverbs
We use the superlative to compare somebody/something with the whole group that she/he/it belongs to.
- Tom is the tallest of the four brothers.
- Gold is the most precious of all metals. (OR Gold is the most precious metal.)
Nouns with superlative adjectives normally take the article the (unless there is a possessive).
- She is the best girl in the class. (NOT She is best girl …)
Superlative adjectives in predicative position also tend to take the, though it is sometimes dropped in an informal style.
- This book is (the) best.
The is sometimes dropped before superlative adverbs in an informal style.
- Who can run (the) fastest?
After superlatives, we do not usually use of with a singular word referring to a place or a group.
- He is the richest man in the world. (NOT … of the world.)
- Who is the fastest player in the team? (NOT … of the team?)
But of can be used before plurals, and before singular quantifiers like lot and bunch.
- Iron is the most useful of all metals.
- He is the best of the lot.
The difference between comparative and superlative
We use the comparative to compare one person, thing, action, event or group with another person, thing etc. We use the superlative to compare somebody/something with the whole group that she/he/it belongs to.
- Mary is taller than her three sisters.
- Mary is the tallest of the four girls.
- He plays better than anybody else in the team.
- He is the best player in the team.
- Iron is more useful than any other metal.
- Iron is the most useful metal.
When a group only has two members, we sometimes use the comparative instead of the superlative.
- John and Tom are clever boys, but I think John is the cleverer/cleverest of the two.
- Take the shorter/shortest of the two routes.
- Alice and Mary are rich women. But Alice is the richer/richest of the two.
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Degree modifiers with comparatives and superlatives
We cannot use very with comparatives. Instead we use other degree modifiers like much, far, very much, a lot, lots, any, no, rather, a little, a bit and even.
- She is much older than her husband. (NOT … very older than ...)
- Is he any better?
- Russian is much/far more difficult than Spanish.
- You are no better than him.
Note that any, no, a bit and a lot are not normally used to modify comparatives before nouns.
- There are much better shops in the city. (NOT … a bit/a lot better …)
Quite is not normally used with comparatives, but it is possible in the expression quite better, meaning ‘recovered from an illness’.
Superlatives can be modified by much and by far, and by other adverbs of degree such as quite and almost.
- She is by far the oldest in the firm.
- He is quite the most stupid person I have ever met.
When more modifies a plural noun, it is modified by many.
- many more opportunities
When more modifies a singular/uncountable noun, it is modified by much.
- much more money