How do native speakers form comparatives? Imagine you are an English learner trying to pick up on the pattern. You listen to a conversation between two people:
Ann is cuter than Barbara.
I think Catherine is prettier than both Ann and Barbara.
At the end of “cute” and “pretty,” you hear the same sound—which you correctly guess is spelled “er.” Can it really be this easy? To form the comparative, the speaker adds -er to the ends of adjectives. The -y of “pretty” changes to an i in the comparative form. Just to make sure, you continue to eavesdrop on the conversation:
If you want to talk about who is the prettiest of the girls we know, it’s Deirdre. She is more gorgeous than Ann, Barbara, and Catherine combined!
Now you’re confused! You expected to hear that Deirdre was gorgeouser than the other three. Why did the speaker say she was more gorgeous than the others? Here are the rules: Regular one-syllable comparative adjectives end in -er. Most adjectives with two or more syllables are preceded by “more.” Of course, there are exceptions. Adjectives that end with -y, such as “pretty,” change the -y to i and receive an -er ending. Some other two-syllable adjectives, especially those that end with an unstressed vowel sound, take an -er ending. Finally, some adjectives have irregular forms, such as good (which becomes better) and far (which becomes farther).
You decide to practice. You join the conversation and add some comments:
Those girls are pretty, but intelligence matters more than beauty! Emma is more smarter than Felicity.
However, Gina is more intelligent than Emma.
One of your colleagues gently tells you that your first statement wasn’t correct. Yes, of the two, Emma is superior in intelligence. However, you can’t use “more” together with an -er ending. You must choose between modifying the adjective with “more” or -er based on the rules above. Which rule applies to this case? “Smart” is a one-syllable adjective; therefore, you would add -er.
Emma is smarter than Felicity.
There you have it! Once you know the rules, you can join conversations with confidence. What do you want to compare next?