Learn the Rules for Changing Adjectives to their Inflectional Comparative and Superlative Forms
What are inflectional comparative and superlative forms?
Many adjectives take inflectional comparative and superlative forms, which means they can be altered for the purpose of making comparisons by having a suffix added to them.1 For example, the inflectional comparative form of sweet is sweeter, and its inflectional superlative form is sweetest. Changing an adjective to its inflectional comparative or superlative form in this way — by simply adding the suffix –er or –est to the adjective — is quite common, but this does not always work.
Different inflectional forms for different adjectives
Not all adjectives are changed to their inflectional comparative and superlative forms in the same way. This article outlines which suffixes should be added to an adjective, based on its ending, to make it comparative or superlative.
1) In most cases
As stated, adjectives are commonly made comparative by adding the suffix –er, or superlative by adding –est.
Some examples are:
small / smaller / smallest
long / longer / longest
fast / faster / fastest
strong / stronger / strongest
2) When the adjective ends with the letter e
If the adjective in question ends with the letter e, the e in the –er or –est suffix is omitted. These adjectives are made comparative or superlative with the addition of the suffix –r or –st.
nice / nicer / nicest
cute / cuter / cutest
close / closer / closest
late / later / latest
3) When the adjective ends with a consonant which is preceded by a single vowel
Words that fit this description are usually made comparative or superlative by doubling the final consonant and then adding an –er or –est suffix.
Common examples are:
big / bigger / biggest
fat / fatter / fattest
sad / sadder / saddest
thin / thinner / thinnest
Note that the final consonant is not doubled when two consecutive vowels precede a lone word-ending consonant. In this case, the consonant is not doubled and the word takes a standard inflection.
great / greater / greatest
cool / cooler / coolest
clean / cleaner / cleanest
quiet / quieter / quietest
Even when the word-ending consonant is preceded by a single vowel, this final consonant should not be doubled in all cases. Most notably, when the adjective ends with -ew, -ow, or -er, it should take a standard inflection.
To give some examples:
new / newer / newest
shallow / shallower / shallowest
clever / cleverer / cleverest
4) When the adjective ends with a y
When the adjective ends with a y, the y is almost always changed to an i before the -er or -est suffix is added.
Here are some examples:
happy / happier / happiest
angry / angrier / angriest
funny / funnier / funniest
ugly / uglier / ugliest
Some adjectives that end with a y are made comparative and superlative without changing the y to an i. These exceptions include adjectives which end with a y that is preceded by a vowel, such as:
grey / greyer / greyest
coy / coyer / coyest
There are also some “odd-ball” adjectives that end with a y that does not change to an i when the adjective takes its comparative or superlative form.
Among these rare adjectives are:
shy / shyer / shyest
sly / slyer / slyest
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1These forms of adjectives are said to be inflectional because they are formed by modifying the adjective itself. Many adjectives which are not discussed in this article are made comparative or superlative analytically — that is, by placing the word more or most before it.