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Dialectal differences in comparatives

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Joined: 10 Oct 2008
Posts: 539
Location: 21 miles from the Syrian border

PostPosted: Sat Dec 15, 2012 5:15 pm    Post subject: Dialectal differences in comparatives Reply with quote

I've noticed that grammar books tend to use the rule that if you're comparing two adjectives of one syllable, or two syllables where the second syllable is "y" you use "-er," while if you use two syllables where the second syllable isn't y, or more than two syllables, then you use "more."

However I've noticed that in my dialect this is patently wrong, and I almost exclusively use "-er" instead of "more" in the following circumstances:

1. If the word is two syllables and ends in a vowel: yellower, shallower.
2. If the word is three syllables, ends in "y" and the first syllable is "un": unhealthier, ungainlier.

I also tend to use -er, but often use "more," especially for emphasis or in formal situations in two more cases:

3. If the word is two syllables and ends in a sonorant consonant (eviler, awesomer)
4. If the word is "stupid": stupider. (This seems to be an isolated case, like that of the comparative of "fun" being "more fun," since all other two-syllable adjectives ending in "d" I use "more": more vapid, more haggard.)

I'll note here that for what it's worth my spellchecker recognizes all of my extra exceptions except "awesomer," but does recognize "handsomer." It also recognizes "wickeder," which sounds wrong to me.

I'll also note that I've checked with other New Englanders, and my rule seems to be valid for my dialect, not just my own idiosyncrasy, but it may still be a local idiosyncrasy. (Like the New England habit of saying "quarter of," which confused learners and coworkers alike until I learned to use "quarter to" with non-native speakers and Britons.)

So tell me, in you dialect of English, which, if any of these additional rules apply to comparatives? (Also, which dialect do you speak?) Obviously I'll still tell students the rule in all the grammar books, since I expect that's what the TOEFL expects, but I'm wondering if other rules are widespread-enough to merit telling my students about these exceptions.

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Joined: 21 Jan 2003
Posts: 13859
Location: Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA

PostPosted: Sat Dec 15, 2012 5:50 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Dear Qaaolchoura,

"Modern sources tend to grudgingly accept “fun” as an adjective. For example, Garner’s Modern American Usage says “fun” as an adjective has reached the stage where it “becomes commonplace even among many well-educated people but is still avoided in careful usage.”

“Funnest” on the other hand, a word that would be the standard inflected form of the adjective “fun,” is less acceptable. I wrote about “funnest” back in 2008 when Steve Jobs called the new iPod the “funnest iPod ever.”

I still wish I hadn’t said, “Words are fun” at the end of my interview. Live radio isn’t exactly the place where careful usage shines because you need time to be careful, and I’m young enough that “fun” as an adjective doesn’t sound wrong to me, but I still know that it rubs some people the wrong way. It’s a low bar, but at least I didn’t say, “Talking about words is the funnest thing I did today.”

Yup, there are, I guess, always going to be exceptions. Some texts, in fact, mention them:

"Number of syllables Comparative Superlative
two syllables + -er OR more + adj + -est OR most + adj
ending in: -y, -ly, -ow
ending in: -le, -er or -ure
these common adjectives - handsome, polite, pleasant, common, quiet


happier/ more happy

happiest/ most happy


yellower/ more yellow

yellowest/ most yellow


simpler/ more simple

simplest/ most simple


tenderer/ more tender

tenderest/ most tender

If you are not sure, use MORE + OR MOST +
Note: Adjectives ending in '-y' like happy, pretty, busy, sunny, lucky etc:. replace the -y with -ier or -iest in the comparative and superlative form.

At the lower levels, KIS (Keep It Simple). At the upper levels, mention some exceptions.

I'm from Boston, but I say/write "more unhealthy," "more handsome, "more evil," etc.

To my ear "awesomer" sounds "awkwarder" than "more awesome." Very Happy

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