Comparatives and superlatives
How are they formed? (depends mostly on syllable structure, with some
1. Short adjectives and adverbs (one syllable)
Wrinkle: If adjective is from a past participle, then we often use more/most.
Wrinkle: With normally ungradable adjective, we can also use more/most.
more dead, more male
2. Two syllables
With some, there's an option of -er/-est or more/most
With others, you must use more/most. It often depends on the specific word,
or the specific type of ending the word has.
3. More than two syllables: always more/most
4. There are some irregular forms (big/better/best)
External syntax: where do they come in sentences?
X verb comparative than Y
Maths was more difficult than spelling.
X verb the superlative type class
Everest is the highest mountain in the world.
Using either (a) the Web, or (b) the Brown corpus, or (c) the on-line British National
Corpus, collect at least 100 examples of comparatives and 100 of superlatives with
more/ most. Of these, how many follow one of the two patterns given in the book.
Can you make any observations about the ones that don't follow the pattern?]
Comparative degree modification more generally
Scales, regions, reference points
1. In a general region (very intelligent)
2. At a contextually determined reference point
(this /that intelligent)
3. Compared to a relative standard
The relative standard often defined n an
as- or than-construction
4. Compared to a region defined (usually) by result
intelligent enough [Note order switch]
The result-region is usually given as a result clause
(that-clause, or an infinitival structure)
With more (-er), less, and too we can indicate the degree of separation from
the comparison point or region.
far more intelligent
three pounds heavier
much less important
a little bit too hot [NOTE order switch]
The separation expressions are:
a quanitifier: much, several, many, a lot, etc.
a measure (three pounds, a little bit)
Degree modification of nouns
There are limitations and idiosyncracies here:
[NOTE the order switches with a]
A very big man
A bigger man
As big a man
That big a man
* That big men
* The as big men
* Several as big men
Too small a pencil
So creative a teacher
Such big pancakes
Such a big pancake
Two such honest people
Nouns treated as gradable (genius, idiot, hothead, prima donna, writer,
composer, etc. etc.) Not only adjectives and adverbs, but also nouns can be treated
as gradable and thus the degrees on the scale can be compared. Usually, we use of
before the nouns, thus converting the noun to a prepositional phrase.
Fred isn't as much of a hothead as Mary.
Harry is enough of an idiot.
I'm a little bit of a liar.
He is so much more of a bureaucrat than she is.
These only work in singular.
*The older employees are so much more of bureaucrats
than the young employees.