The Matter Of Comparison In Writing

writing-tips-big-banner“The change will make the situation more worse than in the past,” the news reporter said.

If that reporter’s secondary school English teacher heard that statement, I’m sure he shuddered. Did you? If not, keep reading. This E-Tip is for you.

Making comparisons is simple. Right? At least, it is simpler than conjugating verbs. Or is it more simple than . . . or is it more simpler than. . . ? OK, it is time to dig out the grammar books and do my homework.

Degrees of Comparison

If a thing is good, we know it is better only if we compare it with something else (the comparative degree). We know it best only if we compare it with two or more things (the superlative degree).

Positive

Comparative

Comparison of two things

Uses er or more/less

Superlative

Comparison of three or more things

 

Uses est or most/least

heavy heavier heaviest
lazy lazier laziest
new newer newest
great greater greatest
difficult more difficult most difficult
friendly more friendly most friendly

 

Note: When the descriptive word ends in y (such as heavy or lazy), change the y to i to add er or est.

Irregulars

In the English language exceptions are the rule. In some cases there are more exceptions than rules. The following words are the exceptions to the rule for showing degrees of comparison. (You may think of others.) They are called “irregulars.”

Positive Comparative Superlative
good/well better best
bad worse worst
littel less least
many/much more most
little smaller smallest

Do not use a double comparative. If you use er or est, do not use more or most (less/least).

The news reporter broke this rule when she said, “The change will make the situation more worse than in the past.”

Correct: “The change will make the situation worse than in the past.”

The Exception

Is there an exception to this rule? Is it ever correct to use a double comparative?

Only in a direct quote, as in the first sentence of this E-Tip, or in dialogue in fiction to reveal the character’s lack of education is there an exception to this rule.

No Comparison

  • Some words cannot be upgraded. They stand alone.
  • Perfect cannot be more perfect.
  • Unique cannot be uniquest.
  • Round cannot be most round.

“You can’t compare absolute qualities, but you can compare how close people or things come to having those qualities” (English Grammar for Dummies, p. 263).

Clark agreed that Stan’s new SUV was almost perfect.

Watch It

Beware of ambiguous comparisons.

  • Incorrect: Jean likes ice cream better than Marty. (Does Jean like ice cream better than she likes Marty or better than Marty likes ice cream.)
  • Correct: Jean likes ice cream better than Marty does.
  • Watch the pronoun case.
  • We like you more than they. (This means we like you more than they like you.)
  • We like you more than them. (This means we like you more than we like them.)

(Examples taken from Precision A Reference Handbook for Writers by Robert J. Gula, p. 50.)

Complete the comparison.

  • Beth screamed louder. (Louder than what? Louder than she screamed before? Louder than another person? Louder than necessary?)
  • Correct: Beth screamed louder than Joyce did.

Be logical.

  • Ted is a better actor than any one in the drama club.
  • In this sentence Ted does not belong to the drama club. But what if Ted were a member of the club?
  • Correct: Ted is a better actor than any one else in the drama club.
  • Lake Eufaula is larger than any lake in Oklahoma.
  • In this sentence Lake Eufaula could be anywhere in the world. But Lake Eufaula is in Oklahoma, so other is needed to make this sentence logical.
  • Correct: Lake Eufaula is larger than any other lake in Oklahoma.

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