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Variations on adjectives, the words that describe things, may well reflect the competitiveness in the world. Or maybe they just add nuance. I haven't decided yet.

Some examples of adjectives are free, purple, grainy, squishy, decadent, pungent, unusual, octagonal.

Adjectives have comparative and superlative forms. That's not as scary as it sounds.

Comparative adjectives compare two things:

Your tree is tall, but ours is taller. (Taller is the comparative adjective.)

Carrots are crunchy, but celery is crunchier. (Crunchier is the comparative adjective.)

A superlative adjective shows the greatest degree of whatever trait you are talking about:

This is the corniest movie I have ever seen.

You may have seen a lot of corny movies in your life, but this tops them all. That's why you use the superlative.

Charles is the gloomiest he has ever been.

How an adjective takes on the comparative or superlative form follows some guidelines.

If the word is one syllable, you simply add an "er" for the comparative form or an "est" for the superlative form.

rich, richer, richest

dull, duller, dullest

If the word is one syllable and ends in "e," you only need add the "r" or "st.''

blue, bluer, bluest

lame, lamer, lamest

I'm sure no one is surprised that no English rules are simple.

Naturally, some adjectives that end with consonants get the last letter doubled.

Sad, sadder, saddest

Slim, slimmer, slimmest

When adjectives end in y, the "y" gets changed to an "i.''

quirky, quirkier, quirkiest

"Good" and "bad" are called irregular adjectives, but I prefer to call them troublemakers.

good, better, best

bad, worse, worst

I can't find an explanation about how these forms came to be. Why isn't it "gooder" and "goodest"? One friend likes to say something is "more better," but he says that to get a laugh, which he always does.

Has anyone out there heard the story behind these irregular adjectives? Let me know.

Two-syllable adjectives can go either way, adding to the confusion.

Some take the "er" and "est."

feeble, feebler, feeblest

Others instead get "more" and "most" tacked on to the front.

diverse, more diverse, most diverse

decent, more decent, most decent

And some can go either way.

handsomer, handsomest, more handsome, most handsome

And, finally, a rule that seems solid. When an adjective has three or more syllables, it uses "more" for the comparative and "most" for the superlative.

exorbitant, more exorbitant, most exorbitant

intellectual, more intellectual, most intellectual

Lewis Carroll, in Alice in Wonderland, has his young heroine noting that things are getting "curiouser and curiouser." But that word belongs only to Carroll. It's not a formal word.


My friend Walt helped me learn something recently about a cul-de-sac.

It seems bizarre to stick the plural "s" in the middle of the phrase, but it's correct. It's culs-de-sac.

Other plural phrases like this include:




Merriam-Webster says to use "passersby" without a hyphen, but The Associated Press Stylebook, which most newspapers follow, prefers "passers-by." That is more consistent with the other phrases with hyphens listed above.

Sources:,,, American Heritage Dictionary,

Reach Bernadette at

ActiveStyle on 11/27/2017

Print Headline: Adjective forms are plentiful and tricky


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