Posted by: Jack Henry | July 30, 2020

Editor’s Corner: Unpack your adjectives

Good morning, friends! I received a question the other day about adjectives, and in my research, I learned a few things that I wanted to share with you. The question was about using the word “more” vs. using the ending “-er” with adjectives. For example, is it correct to say, “more proud” or “prouder”? Well, here are some usage rules from (The content is theirs, but I’ve reformatted and changed some of the examples.)

Syllable Rule for the States of Adjectives

  • One-syllable adjectives usually use -er and -est.
  • sweet, sweeter, sweetest
  • red, redder, reddest
  • hot, hotter, hottest

Note: In some expression, even one-syllable adjectives use “more” for a comparison, such as more tart than sweet.

  • Two-syllable adjectives can use -er and -est, more and most, or either.
  • Angry, angrier, angriest
  • Silly, sillier, silliest
  • Bizarre, more bizarre, most bizarre
  • Clever, cleverer, cleverest; or, clever, more clever, most clever
  • Cruel, crueler, cruelest; or, cruel, more cruel, most cruel
  • Three-syllable adjectives use more and most.
  • Difficult, more difficult, most difficult
  • Insecure, more insecure, most insecure
  • Loveable, more loveable, most lovable

I know, the two-syllable guideline is a sketchy, chaotic solution, but these additional rules should help you write or use the correct wording.

Sounds-Weird Rule for States of Adjectives

Sometimes the ‑er and ‑est endings just sound strange.

For example, the correct comparative and superlative forms of common are commoner and commonest. But these words sound strange…thus, common, more common, and most common would be regarded as correct by most people (simply because they’re used to hearing these forms). In formal settings, however, you should choose the correct forms, commoner and commonest. [KC – Formal settings like senior prom, a business presentation, or dinner with Queen Elizabeth—though “commoner” might be a noun
to her.]

Look-It-Up Rule for States of Adjectives

[KC – I love this rule! Check the dictionary!]

You can always find the answer in the dictionary.

Look up common, and immediately following the word you’ll find the endingser and ‑est. These entries show how to form the comparative and superlative forms of the adjective.

Now look up the word different. Notice that following the entry you do not find the endingser and ‑est. The absence of these endings means that you use more for the comparative and most for the superlative.

An additional “rule” I read somewhere is that sometimes people use “more” or “most” for greater emphasis than using -er would have, which brings us back to the original question about proud, prouder, proudest, and more proud. Using that example, either of these is appropriate:

  • Meredith could not be more proud of her son, the first in her family to get a Ph.D.
  • Herschel was prouder of his strawberry jam this year than he was last year, even though last year he won first prize at the fair.

And for a smile, a few unfortunate quarantine haircuts:

Kara Church

Pronouns: she/her/hers

Technical Editor, Advisory

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