Also look at “Killing Adjectives”

Adjectives are words that modify or describe nouns. Nouns are persons, places or things. The adjectives in the following examples are in bold type:  an old man, a big deal, beautiful Canada. Sometimes two words are used together to form a single compound adjective. Some compound adjectives such as part-time and old-fashioned are permanently hyphenated and appear that way in the dictionary. Other compound adjectives are hyphenated—must be hyphenated—only when they appear before the noun, but are not hyphenated when they follow the noun: a fur-lined coat but, “The coat was fur lined.”  A four-year-old child but, “The child is four years old. Never hyphenated are adverbs ending in –ly —freshly brewed coffee—and comparatives (-er) or superlatives (-est)—a higher paid job, oldest surviving relative. One can make up a compound adjective, and when such an adjective comes before the noun it describes, it must be hyphenated: He had a never-say-die attitude. If you want to know whether a compound adjective is permanently hyphenated, that is, both before and after a noun, you have to check the dictionary. The adjective “time-honored” will be there; “fur-lined” won’t be.

Choose the correct word:

  1. John was (wiser/more wiser) than his brother.
  2. Of the two sisters, Jezebel is the (smarter/smartest).
  3. The grammar column has (less/fewer) readers than the sports column.
  4. Mr. Bush’s use of language is (most unique/unique).
  5. A little (further/farther) up the street is a good vegetarian restaurant
  6. Discussing this matter any (farther/further) is a waste of time.
  7. Whyte Ave. is (more quiet/quieter) now than it was during the playoffs.
  8. John made the (most sincere/sincerest) confession I have ever heard.
  9. Tofu is good, but steak is (more tasty/tastier).
  10. The professor gave the (boringest/most boring) lecture I have ever heard.

Answers: 1. wiser  2. smarter  3. fewer 4. unique 5. farther 6. further  7. quieter  8. sincerest  9. tastier  10. most boring

Adjectives have absolute, comparative and superlative degrees: smart, smarter, smartest.  Most single-syllable adjectives form the comparative and superlative in –er and –est: calm, calmer, calmest; tall, taller, tallest. Adjectives with three or more syllables form the comparative and superlative with more and most:

  1. intelligent, more intelligent, most intelligent. The two forms can’t be mixed. Someone can be surer, but never more surer.
  2. The comparative—smarter—is used when two persons or things are being compared, and the superlative—smartest—is used when more than two persons or things are being compared. If Jezebel had two sisters and was smarter than either of them, she would be the smartest of the three.
  3. The adjective less is used with non-countable nouns: less sugar, less milk, less time. When we’re dealing with persons or things that can be counted, we have to use fewer: fewer readers, fewer cows, fewer cups of sugar, fewer glasses of milk
  4. Some adjectives—pregnant, perfect, unique, round, dead, etc.—logically have only the absolute degree. No one can be more pregnant or more unique than anyone else.
  5. & 6. Farther refers to physical distance and further means “additionally.” Not all writers observe this distinction.
  6. & 8. Most two-syllable adjectives form the comparative and superlative in –er  and –est.
  7. Two-syllable adjectives that end in y change the y to i and add –er, -est to form the comparative and superlative.
  8. Two syllable adjectives that end in -ful,-less, -ing, -ed, -ous always form. their comparatives and superlatives with more and most

Note: In the case of two-syllable adjectives, it’s a good idea to check the dictionary for the preferred form. For some, both -er/-est and more/most are possible.

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