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Comparatives and superlatives

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Carrie Carrie | 14:26 UK time, Thursday, 20 September 2012

Hi Omar and everyone,
Like you, I'm a great list maker. I make useful lists. When I get in to the office each morning I make a list on a sticky note of all the things I want to get done. At home, I write lists on scraps of paper, on the backs of envelopes and on old letters. I even have a pencil and piece of paper next to my bed in case I think of something during the night!

I always make my lists to remind me what I need to do or what I need to buy. Shall I tell you something really sad? Sometimes I add something to my list after I have done it, just so that I can cross it off the list. It makes me feel I've achieved more! So, I have a question for everyone. Are you a highlighter or crosser-outer? Of course those aren't really words. What I mean is: when you make a list of things to do, do you
a) cross something out when it is complete
b) highlight something with a highlighter pen when it is complete?
I cross things out. I find it more satisfying to see a list with a lot of things crossed out and only a few things left to do. But apparently, this is very negative. I've read that if you highlight something it feels more positive than crossing it out. It's a celebration. What do you think?

Omar, I love your idea of a website with lots of checklists on it. I would definitely sign up for that!

I understand exactly what you mean by saying "life's teachers". Whilst a "role model" is technically the correct term, I think "life's teachers" is more evocative. A role model is someone who is regarded as a good example to follow. They haven't necessarily given you any good advice or taught you anything: but the way they live their life is inspiring. I think what you mean by "life's teachers" is something even more than that?
Your English is, as always, very good. I thought today we'd take a quick look at comparatives and superlatives.

We use comparatives to compare one person or thing with one other person or thing. We use superlatives to compare one person or thing with many other people or things. My colleague Sean says "It's easy - when you compare it's comparatives (better than/more interesting than etc); when it's super duper it's superlatives (the best / the most interesting!)..."

There are some rules when making comparatives and superlatives:

  • The simple rule is that if the word has one syllable like 'small', 'cold' we add '-er' for a comparative e.g. old/older; fast/faster and '-est' for a superlative e.g. fast/fastest. We never use 'more' + a comparative ending in 'er'

  • With words of three or more syllables like intelligent we can't add 'er'. So we say 'more intelligent' and 'most intelligent'.

  • This also applies to adjectives formed with -ing and -ed and those ending in -ious and -ful e.g. boring/more boring/most boring; beautiful/more beautiful/most beautiful

  • With words that end in 'y': change the 'y' to 'i' and ad '-er' for a comparative e.g. easy/easier; lovely/lovelier and '-est' for a superlative e.g. easy/easiest; lovely/loveliest

Of course, this is English, so there are always irregulars! e.g. good/better/best; bad/worse/worst

You said "although the more older I become" - here you have used a mixture of the rules! Remember, 'old' is a short word, so you just add -er and you don't need the 'more'. If you had used the word 'ancient', that would have been 'more ancient'.

'Although the older I become, the more like him I become' sounds better and is a bit more informal. You can use 'like' instead of 'similar to'

Are you missing the Olympics? I am. So, here's an idea for you to practise your comparatives and superlatives. Think of your favourite athletes or country and - using these adjectives or others of your choice - list some things about them! Lists again! Try to use a comparative and superlative.

Fast (eg: Usain Bolt was faster than Yohan Blake. In fact, he was the fastest in the world as he broke the Olympic record.)

Quadruple London Paralympics champion David Weir

Quadruple London Paralympics champion David Weir

Take care

Sad: in this context it means embarrassing not unhappy
Super duper: slang meaning great, wonderful, marvellous!


  • Comment number 1.

    I believe that this is the easiest way to learn. I loved it.

  • Comment number 2.

    Hi Carrie,
    actually, when you write down something just to cross it, I don't find it sad, I'd rather find it funny, it makes me laugh a lot! but i understand you, i also love to cross items on my lists and even if i don't write something already done just to cross it off the list, i sometimes add very simple tasks to my list, for the same reason! :-)
    I'm definitely a cross-outer guy, although i also tryed the high-lighting method sometimes. my favourite sensation is when I reach the wonderful situation called "inbox zero". usually I go for it before the summer break, to be sure not to come back to work with a load of old tasks yet to be done. it's wonderful when you look at your to do list, and you find it empty! Homework is coming in the next comment!

  • Comment number 3.

    Dear Carrie,

    Thank you for your invaluable help. You actually show us the way to follow in learning English.

    You asked us whether we are cross-outers or highlighters of tasks done, I can say that I am a crosss-outer. I eliminate the things I did from my list an add new tasks that should be done. I try to separate in my list between the short-term and the long-term duties.

    Now this is my homework concerning comparatives and superlatives:

    - Strong= stronger, strongest.
    - Beautiful= more beautiful, most beautiful.
    - Long= longer, longest.
    - Great= greater greatest.
    - Brave= braver, bravest.
    - Good= better, best.

    I would like to tell you that the previous homework about phrasal and prepositional verbs was more challenging. I am still looking forward to the correction and more explanation of that assignment.

    Kind regards,

    Elmansour, from Casablanca, Morocco.

  • Comment number 4.

    Here is my homework
    Shelly-Ann Frasier from jamaica run faster than her opponents in the 100m final, but the fastest woman of all time was Florence Griffith, that set up the world record running the distance in 10.49 seconds.
    some sports are more beautiful than others to watch on tv, but i think that the most beautiful is waterpolo.
    a marathon is usually longer than other competition, but the longest match in the history was a cricket match between England and South Africa, in 1939, that lasted 10 days!
    Team GB earned a greater number of medals than Italy, but the country with the greatest rate of medal per person is Jamaica, with 12 medals for a 2 million person country.

  • Comment number 5.

    Sorry I wasn't finished yet .
    the russian national headquarter, that i visited during the olympics was better than the italian, although i'm told that the best was the new zealand one.

  • Comment number 6.

    Hi Cleiton Rafael, Omar and Elmansour,

    Thank you for your comments. I'm glad to know there are other crosser-outers out there!

    Elmansour: you didn't actually do the homework. One important thing to remember (not just when learning English) is always read the question. Then, to make sure you know what is being asked, read it again ;-) Take a look at Omar's homework and you'll see that maybe it is a bit more challenging than you think. Have fun!

    Omar: you gave that homework a really good try! You made a few mistakes - not with the comparatives/superlatives though: they were perfect! Remember: the names of countries, towns, cities, rivers and nationalities should always start with a capital letter. I think your first "jamaica" was just a typo, as you've used capitals for the other countries you mention. You should also always be careful to start a sentence with a capital letter and use "I" rather than "i". When you talk about Florence, you need to say "who set" (not set up): she's a person, so we use 'who'. We use 'that' for things. You've definitely done your research though...you've taught me some things today!

  • Comment number 7.

    Hello Carie,
    I am great lover to make lists of plans and things to do,but never have used to cross or highlight them.Just I make some marks on the ordinal number in the list.
    About homework:
    USA Olympic team was one of the strongest team in the Olympic Games.
    The Olympic opening ceremony was most beautiful sight, which I ever have seen.
    Triumph of the Usain Bolt with world record was greatest one on the Olympic.
    The athletes who achieved the victory on this Olympic were braver than others.
    For athletes on the Olympics to show the best results need great force from them.

  • Comment number 8.

    Today i have got this site,really really good for me .im happy and have hungry to learn,as a school teacher it builds my confidence.thank you everybody.

  • Comment number 9.

    Hi Carrie,

    thank you very much for your article, I am learning a lot from you. I am crosser-outer. this is my first time to post my comments and in future if i have time i would post my comments.

  • Comment number 10.

    Dear Carrie,
    Thank you for this interesting blog. As for the first part of it about making different "remember-lists" I fully agree that they are real helpers in life. I use them practically every day not to miss something important.

    I also like the second grammar part of your blog about Comparatives and Superlatives, in particular, your easy and very clear way of explaining. For me as I am an English teacher there is always a dilemma: how much explicit the explanations of the rules I give to my students should be.
    On the one hand, it depends on the students' levels but sometimes in one group I have several students of a little bit different levels. Some of them want to know more and for others the very short and precise information is enough.
    On the other hand, as every teacher I want to give my students as much useful information as possible so that they know more.
    In any case I understand now that at the very beginning it's really important to involve your students in the process of grammar studying by drawing different fascinating examples, showing video files and playing grammar games. At first, in my opinion, it's better not to overload your students with very detailed rules because they will be bored and lose their interest to the topic.

    Best regards,
    Victoria (Russia)


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