What are the Degrees of Comparison in English Grammar

Adverbs and adjectives are often confused with each other. Starting from the basic, adverbs are the words which qualify a verb, whereas adjectives are the words which qualify a noun. Hence, they are two different concepts.

Degrees of Comparison of Adjectives

To begin with, in the first place, you need to understand what an adjective is. Look at the following example:

Example:It is a beautiful day.

Here, the noun ‘day’ is qualified using the word ‘beautiful’. Hence, beautiful is the adjective in the sentence. Now, degrees of comparison can come into picture only when there are more than or equal to two things available. So, adjectives are compared on the same platform. There are three degrees of comparison of adjectives:

  • Positive
  • Comparative
  • Superlative

Have a look at the following sentence:

John is the tallest boy in the class.

Here, the word ‘tallest’ shows that John is the only boy in the class who is the tallest. Hence, this is a superlative degree, where the adjective has a suffix ‘est’, and is always accompanied by the word ‘the’. The same sentence can be written in two more ways:

No other boy in the class is as tall as John.

John is taller than any other boy in the class.

In the first sentence here, the word ‘tall’ is used instead of ‘tallest’ but it conveys the same meaning as that of the first sentence. Hence, this is called the positive degree which is always accompanied by the words ‘no other’. Similarly, in the next sentence, the word ‘taller’ is used instead of ‘tall’ and ‘tallest’, but it conveys the same meaning. This is called the comparative degree which is always accompanied by the words ‘any other’. Hence, any adjective can have 3 degrees. Following are some of the examples you can refer to for better understanding.

PositiveComparativeSuperlative
ShortShorterShortest
BigBiggerBiggest
GreatGreaterGreatest
GoodBetterBest
BeautifulMore beautifulMost beautiful

Some useful sentences:

  1. Positive Degree: No other place is as dirty as that.

    Comparative Degree: That is dirtier than any other place.

    Superlative Degree: That is the dirtiest place.
  2. Positive Degree: No other girl in the town is as beautiful as her.

    Comparative Degree: She is more beautiful than any other girl in the town.

    Superlative Degree: She is the most beautiful girl in the town.

These were some examples where there was only one ‘tallest boy’ or one ‘dirtiest place’ or one ‘most beautiful girl’. What if there are many tall boys and John is one of them? Then the rules to change the degrees of comparison are different. Look at the following examples.

Superlative Degree: John is one of the tallest boys in the class.

Positive Degree: Very few boys in the class are as tall as John.

Comparative Degree: John is taller than most other boys in the class.

Hence, here the words ‘one of the’ make a big difference. The positive degree is always accompanied by the words ‘very few’, while the comparative degree is always accompanied by the words ‘than most other’. Hence, while you convert one degree into another, make sure you have understood the meaning of the sentence.

Degrees of Comparison of Adverbs

I hope you are clear with the terms positive degree, comparative degree, and superlative degree. Now, we are going to see how adverbs are compared. As mentioned previously, adverbs are words which qualify a verb.

Example: He runs fast.

Here, ‘run’ is the verb, and the word ‘fast’ shows the way he runs. Hence, it is called the adverb. Even in the case of adverbs, you should remember that comparison can happen only when two or more things are available. Adverbs are compared using the following words:

  • Almost
  • Barely
  • Entirely
  • Highly
  • Quite
  • Slightly
  • Totally
  • Utterly

Like adjectives, some adverbs also have positive, comparative, and superlative degrees.

Example: John walks fast. Tom walks faster. Ted walks the fastest.

Yet, many of the adverbs do not take these forms which have ‘er’ and ‘est’ as their suffix. Instead, they are correct when used with ‘more’ and ‘most’ before the comparative and superlative degrees respectively. Have a look at the table given below.

PositiveComparativeSuperlative
FrequentlyMore frequentlyMost frequently
EffectivelyMore effectivelyMost effectively
RecentlyMore recentlyMost recently

Some adverbs have an irregular form with comparative and superlative degrees. The table below includes such examples.

PositiveComparativeSuperlative
WellBetterBest
LittleLessLeast
MuchMoreMost
BadlyWorseWorst

Now, you must have come to know that degrees of comparison of adjectives and adverbs have different rules, and hence are converted differently. Thus, to comprehend the subject more clearly, practice as many sentences as you can. After all, practice makes a man perfect! All the best!

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