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Comparative and superlative
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Dear Richard & Rachel

Would you please tell me what is the comparative
and superlative of the following adjective ?

main- wrong-complete- perfect-silent

I'm waiting for your kind reply.

Thank you very much.

Sayed
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Hi Sayed

While you're waiting for R & R, I'll give you some input.

First of all, using "more" and "most" to form comparatives and superlatives is basically never wrong -- not even with one-syllable adjectives. However, most of the time we'd add -er or -est to the end of one-syllable adjectives. Some two-syllable adjectives can also take the -er -est endings.

As for the specific words you posted, here is what I would recommend:

- main => I cannot recall ever having used (or hearing anyone else use) any comparative form of the word "main". Thus, I would advise against trying to use this one as a comparative or superlative.

- wrong => wronger/wrongest

For the rest, I would use more and most to form the comparative and superlative forms.

You may not hear these used too often since the adjectives you posted all convey ideas that are basically absolute. Nevertheless, they are used sometimes.

This message has been edited. Last edited by: Amy, Co-Moderator,
<Richard, Moderator>
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I'm afraid I don't agree with your assessment, Amy. Frown

Not all one-syllabe adjectives take comparative and/or superlative forms. If we're dealing with qualitative adjectives, the one-syllable ones almost all form their comparatives by adding –er to the end. Some examples are brighter, larger, neater, sicker.

But if we're dealing with classifying adjectives, it's another story. With adjectives like pregnant, yearly, apt, main, complete, perfect, and silent, which can't be graded (given a degree of their condition), we don't use comparative or superlative forms.

Think about it: If something is complete, it's complete. If a woman is pregnant, she's pregnant. Something can't be a little complete or very complete. A woman can't be a little pregnant or very pregnant.

It's funny that, even though I would include wrong in the list of classifying adjectives, some people accept saying wronger or more wrong as correct. To me that's not logical, but that's just my opinion.

And then, of course, there's one of my pet bugaboos, unique. Even though many people say very unique to emphasize whatever they feel is unique, it drives me nuts. Unique is another classifying adjective that isn't really gradable.

Anyway, it is important to see that classifying adjectives work differently from qualitative adjectives, which can be seen in one degree or another because they are gradable.
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Dear Richard,

What about this:

All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than the others.


SmileIzzy loves you allSmile
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Dear Richard,

Many thanks for your kind help but:

- What about salty ?

salty -saltier - saltiest (Longman Dictionary )

salty- saltier- - no superlatives (Oxford Dictionary )

Which of them is correct ?
Thanks a lot.

Sayed
<Richard, Moderator>
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First, Izzy:

That's a sarcastic remark, Izzy. The sarcasm comes precisely from the fact that equal is a classifying adjective which is not gradable.

Now, Sayed:

Salty is a qualitative adjective, so it is gradable. I tend to feel that the Longman version is correct. For example, there's nothing wrong with saying That's the saltiest soup I've ever eaten. I can't even swallow it!
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Hi Richard

I'd say we actually agree on quite a bit and the main difference is that I view these "rules" more flexibly than you do. Actually, I don't see them as "rules" at all, but rather as commonly used patterns.

My experience is that many ESL students become quite confused when trying to classify adjectives, so they end up thinking that it is incorrect to say something such as "in order to form a more perfect union", for example.

For an example of "wronger", a sentence such as this comes to my mind:

- You couldn't have been wronger.

That sounds completely natural to me, and it does not strike me as grammatically incorrect. Not at all.

As for using expressions such as "very pregnant", there is nothing terribly unusual about that one. That's probably used much more often than "wronger". I've heard people use "very pregnant" plenty of times. Generally speaking, that would be a reference to a woman who is at an advanced stage of pregnancy, and the fact that she is pregnant is hard to miss -- i.e. it is very obvious to see.

However, the fact that "non-gradable" adjectives are much less likely to be used in comparative and superlative forms was precisely why I mentioned to Sayed that he wouldn't hear the words he asked about used in comparative and superlative forms too often.

As for one-syllable adjectives, I also agree that the usual way to form the comparative is to add the -er and -est endings (as I said in my first post). However, there are times at which it is better to use more or most -- generally for reasons of style/balance. But there are also some one-syllable adjectives that simply don't follow the usual patterns, and they typically use more/most rather than adding -er or -est.

This message has been edited. Last edited by: Amy, Co-Moderator,
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Thanks a lot, Richard.


SmileIzzy loves you allSmile
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Hi Izzy

Your example is a case for which the comparative form of "equal" was used for reasons of style. ;-)
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quote:
Hi Izzy

Your example is a case for which the comparative form of "equal" was used for reasons of style. ;-)


Thanks Amy but what do you mean by that?

Also Amy,

you said:
I'd say we actually agree on quite a bit and the main difference is that I view these "rules" more flexibly than you do. Actually, I don't see them as "rules" at all, but rather as commonly used patterns.

I wonder what makes you view "rules" more flexibly. What are your reasons behind that? In other words, are you trying to say that Richard's view is somehow prescriptive while your is descriptive?


SmileIzzy loves you allSmile
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Hi Sayed,

I found saltiest in Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary - 7th Edition.

Which Oxford dictionary did you refer to that does not have saltiest?
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Hi Izzy

To me, "grammar rules" should be viewed as basic guidelines that work in many cases, but which may not necessarily work in all cases.

There are quite a few "non-gradable" adjectives that turn up quite regularly in grammatically correct comparative forms.

To illustrate my point, what could be a more perfect example than this sentence?

I do not see myself as a prescriptivist, nor do I see myself as a descriptivist. I see myself as being a little of both. Others may disagree. LOL
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quote:
Thanks Amy but what do you mean by that?
Hi again, Izzy,

I wrote that because I had already mentioned "style" in my previous post. When Richard told you that your "more equal" was an example of sarcasm, that also means that the usage was a sarcastic sort of style.
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quote:
That's a sarcastic remark, Izzy. The sarcasm comes precisely from the fact that equal is a classifying adjective which is not gradable.

It's sarcastic because in this remark, 'equal' is a code word for 'privileged.'

I believe the famous quote is from 'Animal Farm,' by George Orwell. In this book, when the speaker says that some are more equal than others, he means that the official position of the government is that everyone is equal, but this is really not true. Some are more 'equal' -- that is, more privileged -- than others.

I have some points to bring up about non-gradable adjectives. Please stay tuned. I'll be writing this tomorrow.

(I think there are very, very few of them.)

This message has been edited. Last edited by: Rachel, Moderator,
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I think that many adjectives that are often considered non-gradable are not really and completely non-gradable. We often think of these adjectives on a kind of continuum. For example:

1. a) He's a little bit wrong about that. (What he says is close to correct, but a little off.)

b) He's very wrong about that. (Not only is he wrong, but he is very far from correct.

2. a) She's a little bit pregnant. (Maybe one month.)
b) She's very pregnant. (Maybe nine months.)

We've had interesting discussions on this topic previously here on the GE. Here's one thread:
http://thegrammarexchange.info...=253105622#253105622

This message has been edited. Last edited by: Rachel, Moderator,
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Dear Richard & Rachel ,

Here is the answer from a British tutor to my
question :

I'm not sure there's a comparative form of "main".
You could perhaps say "more important" or "bigger"
(depending on context).

"more wrong" as in "It's more wrong to xxx than to xxxx" .
but again, it sounds a little strange.
Something is either wrong or it's not.
Perhaps in this instance we'd use "worse".

complete - more complete - the most complete
perfect - more perfect - the most perfect
silent - more silent - the most silent

*** I wonder what would be your comment?

I'm waiting for your kind reply.
Thank you very much.

Sayed

This message has been edited. Last edited by: mister_5001,
<Richard, Moderator>
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What I've enjoyed so much about this discussion, my friend, is the interesting differences of opinion that various native speakers of English have. I guess it's a matter of one's personal "linguistic philosophy."

Some examples that have been offered, like very pregnant, are obviously idiomatic in nature. Idiomatic uses like that are fine.

Other examples are phrases commonly used, but that's because they haven't been thought through. If native speakers thought them through, they might not use them so readily (e.g., very unique).

There's really nothing more that I can add. I've found this discussion very illuminating and the best advice I can offer you, Sayed, is that if a number of native speakers say something is acceptable to use, then use it! Smile
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I've just taken a look at the BNC and COCA for usage examples of "more wrong" or "wronger". I thought the number of results was interesting as well.

The BNC (the British corpus) turned up 41 results for "more wrong" and none at all for "wronger".

The American corpus (COCA) had 111 results for "more wrong" and only 3 for "wronger".

So, it appears the most likely comparative form of "wrong" (if and when a comparative form of "wrong" is used) is "more wrong" -- on both sides of the proverbial pond.
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You couldn't be righter / more right.
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