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Classical Grammar, Lesson 07. Comparison of Adjectives

To complete the objectives of this lesson, complete the following tasks:

  1. Review past lessons on adjectives.
  2. Study the lesson for mastery.
  3. Memorize the rules in bold print.
  4. Complete the lesson assessment.


53. Adjectives are not declined in the English language.

In Latin, we learn that adjectives are declined and vary in forms to show gender, number, case and degree. While this is not true of English adjectives, they do vary their forms to express degree.

54. An adjective undergoes a change of form to express a comparison between different objects.

When we compare objects, we either compare one to another, or one to more than one. If we say that one possess a quality in a greater degree than another, we use the comparative degree. If we say that one possess a quality in a greater degree than all others, we use the superlative degree. We refer to both of these uses as “comparison” with respect to adjectives.

55. When the form of an adjective is so altered, as to express that a property exists in the subject we are speaking of, in a greater degree than in some other or others, the adjective is said to be in the comparative degree.

When we read, “Summer is hotter than winter.”, summer possesses the property signified by the adjective “hot” in a greater degree than winter does.

56. When the form of an adjective is so altered, as to express that, of all the individuals compared together, the property belongs in the highest degree to that of which we are speaking, the adjective is said to be in the superlative degree.

Hence, the comparative and superlative are called degrees of comparison.

57. The adjective, in its simple form, is said to be in the “positive degree”. In English, the comparative form of an adjective normally ends in -ER , the superlative in -EST.

The word “positive” is derived from the Latin positivus, which means “placed, put”; because the property is simply put down without any comparison made with other objects.

These endings -ER and -EST are added to the adjective; but if an adjective ends in -E already, only -R is added, which, however, increases the word by a syllable, as: safe, safer.

Adjectives that end in -Y change -Y into -I before -ER and -EST, as: lofty, loftier, loftiest.

58. Adjectives of more than one syllable , with the exception of those of two syllables ending in a vowel, do not admit of this change.

In older English writers, like Milton and Shakespeare, we will find examples of virtuousest, famousest, etc In modern English, we use the adverbs more and most, when we wish to compare the properties that are expressed by such adjectives, as most virtuous, most famous, etc.

59. Some adjectives have peculiar forms for their comparatives and superlatives:

  • good, better, best
  • bad, worse, worst
  • little, less, least
  • much, more, most
  • many, more, most

60. Late and near have last and next for their superlatives, as well as latest and nearest.

61. There are also some superlatives ending in -most, as: nethermost, lowermost, undermost; hindmost and hindermost; upmost and uppermost; inmost and innermost; topmost, foremost. Observe, that in some of these -most is added to the positive, in some to the comparative, and in others to adverbs, or prepositions (used adverbially).

Further, furthest, have nothing to do with far, but come from an old adjective forth: consequently, we should not write farther, farthest.

The comparative and superlative are more nearly defined by such words of quantity as much, far, considerably, a little, somewhat, &c. , and the existence of any excess is denied by no, not at all, & c., with the comparative. “She is no better.”

In many languages the superlative is used without a direct comparison of the object with others, to express that it possesses the quality in a very high degree. The superlative thus used, is called the “superlative of eminence”. In English , we commonly use the adverb “very” for this purpose, as “A very good house.”

Sometimes, however, our superlative is used as a superlative of eminence, especially when it is modified by such an adjective as possible, imaginable, conceivable, etc. It will generally, however, be found, that there is an implied reference to other objects, as “He received me in the kindest possible manner.”, “The greatest imaginable folly.” Here the reference is to all the possible degrees of kindness; to every
imaginable species of folly.

In most languages we find a few comparatives and superlatives from words which already denote the highest degree of a quality. One would not wish to get rid of such forms, when they have once obtained a firm footing, and may be considered as naturalized in the language.

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