Saturday, January 22, 2011

Comparative and superlative

Nothing will get a manuscript tossed in the rejection pile faster than bad grammar. Unfortunately, the rules of comparatives and superlatives are very particular, and perhaps the most common mistake writers make is to use adjectives where they should have used adverbs (see the last four examples of this post).

A comparative adjective must be used when comparing two nouns. Comparative adjectives require one of two markers.

  1. The word more.
  2. A word ending in the letters er (This is easy to remember due to the similar er sound in the word more).
The Eiffel Tower is more magnificent than Big Ben.
John is taller than Bill.
Never use both more and er: John is more taller than Bill.

superlative adjective must be used when comparing three or more nouns. It requires one of two markers.
  1. The word most.
  2. An adjective ending is st (This is easy to remember due to the same st sound in the word most).
Of the three movies, the first was most gruesome.
He is the rudest person I know.
Never use both most and st: He is the most rudest person I know.

comparative adverb is used when comparing two nouns in relation to a verb. Remember that most adverbs end in ly. Comparative adverbs usually require only one marker:
  1. The word more.
John spoke more loudly than Bill.
Bill wrote more colorfully than John.

A superlative adverb is used when comparing three or more nouns in relation to a verb. They are usually indicated by only one marker:
  1. The word most.
Of all her brothers and sisters, she responded most courageously.
Compared to everyone else at the meeting, he behaved most arrogantly.

Do not use an adjective where grammar requires an adverb. Recall that adverbs usually end in ly and modify verbs.

John spoke louder than Bill.
John spoke more loudly than Bill.

Jenny greeted me more delightful than anyone else.
Jenny greeted me most delightfully.

Between vs among
Use between when referring to two items. Use among when referring to three or more items.

Each other vs one another
Use each other when referring to two items. Use one another when referring to three or more items.

"Favorite" and "unique" are already superior
The words favorite and unique should never be modified because they are natively in a superior state. You can't have a "most favorite" or a "more unique" item.

The word literally means literally. Many people are incorrectly using the word literally for emphasis. Perhaps it can be overlooked when someone is speaking, but the usage will cause major confusion when written.
    • This President will literally change the world. means the President is going to physically reshape the earth. Awesome.
    • As soon as she walked in the room, my heart literally stopped beating. She must have been a first responder because you're still here to tell the story.
    • The word you are looking for in the above two sentences is virtually (or figuratively).
    • For some funny real world examples of literally abuse, go to

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