The degrees of adjectives allow us to express comparisons between two or more things. Although people easily use adjective degrees in everyday conversation, the degrees can get a little more complicated when it comes to grammar and spelling. Adjectives have three different degrees: positive, or no degree, comparative, for two things, and superlative, comparing the subject to three or more things.
The Positive Degree
The positive degree is the base form of the adjective and does not express comparison. Thus, the positive degree of the adjective “happy” is “happy,” and “red” is the positive degree of “red.”
The Comparative Degree
The comparative degree demonstrates a comparison between two things. If you say, “My brother is happier than I am,” you are using the comparative form of “happy” to compare your brother and you. Likewise, if you say, “Lucy’s hair is redder than mine,” you are comparing you and Lucy. When forming the comparative of a one- or two-syllable word, you normally add “–er” to the end, such as “smart” and “smarter” and “light” and “lighter.” However, the spelling of the words often changes depending on which letters they end with. You might add the suffix “-ier” to words that end with “y” -- “happy” and “happier” -- and drop the "y." Sometimes, you add another syllable, as in “red” and “redder.” When the adjective is already more than two syllables, you use the word “more” to show comparison, as in “she is more important than you.”
The Superlative Degree
The superlative degree demonstrates a comparison between three or more things. For example, “Angie is the stupidest person on the planet,” is a comparison between Angie and everyone else in the world. For most one- or two-syllable adjectives, you add the suffix “-est” or “-iest,” depending on the ending of the word. For words that are more than two syllables long, you use “most” or “the most.” For example, ‘’This is the most interesting book I’ve read this year.’’
Certain adjectives do not have degrees, as they are already as extreme is possible. For example, you can say “That was a tremendous blast of thunder,” but not “That blast of thunder was tremendouser than the last,” because “tremendous” is already extreme.
Common Problems People Have With Degree Adjectives
You wouldn’t use the adjective “more” with an adjective that’s already in the comparative form. For example, you wouldn't say, "This assignment is more duller than the one we had last week." Likewise, you wouldn’t use "most" with an adjective that is already in the superlative form.
- Dynamic Graphics Group/Dynamic Graphics Group/Getty Images