Making comparisons: The good, the better, and the best

By Phil Stoneman October 25, 2017
Making comparisons

The carassius auratus on the right is bigger than the carassius auratus on the left

Making comparisons is as important as any other aspect of language. In this edition, we look at different ways to compare one thing to another in English.

One thing I love to do in Colombia is visit different places. I live in Bogotá, which is the biggest city and probably the most exciting place to live, but I also enjoy visiting Medellín. Medellín isn’t as big as Bogotá, but it’s much easier to travel around and it’s a bit quieter too. I also recently went to Cartagena, which is much smaller but by far the most attractive for tourists.

Comparing one thing to another is an important thing to be able to do in any language. When talking about things such as cities, people or food, you may need to say which one is better, bigger or more beautiful than the other. To compare things, we need to understand the basics, and then we can make some more detailed descriptions.

The basic question: -er , -est, more or the most?

To make a comparative or superlative form, we need to look at the adjective. Follow these rules to see what the correct form is:

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If it’s a one-syllable adjective, we just add –er for the comparative, or –est for the superlative. So, tall becomes taller and the tallest:

He’s taller than his school friends.

He’s the tallest person in his school.

If the adjective ends with a vowel and a consonant, we repeat the consonant, so big becomes bigger and the biggest:

I think your pizza is bigger than mine!

That’s the biggest pizza I’ve ever seen!

Notice that “than” is very important when we compare one thing to another.

If the adjective has two syllables and finishes with the letter y, then we use –ier and –iest, so pretty becomes prettier and the prettiest:

The beaches on the Pacific are prettier than those on the Atlantic.

The Pacific region has some of Colombia’s prettiest beaches.

However, if the adjective has two or more syllables, we generally use more to make the comparative, and the most to make the superlative, so beautiful becomes more beautiful and the most beautiful:

Her new paintings are more beautiful than her old ones.

This is the most beautiful painting in the shop!

As always in English, watch out for exceptions! There aren’t many exceptions to the rules above, but two very common ones are good – better – the best and bad – worse – the worst:

The food in this restaurant is better than in that one.

This is the best meal I’ve ever eaten.

The second film was worse than the first one.

This is the worst film I’ve ever seen.

Being specific: a little or a lot?

Now that we have the basic rules, we can be more specific about these descriptions. Have a look at the picture of Larry, Tom, Dave, and Jim.

We can use much or a lot to describe a big difference:

Making comparisons

Larry is much shorter than the others

Larry is much shorter than Jim.

Jim is a lot taller than Larry.

Another way to describe big differences when we use superlatives is by far:

Larry is by far the shortest person.

We can use a little or a bit to describe a small difference:

Dave is a little shorter than Jim.

Jim is a bit taller than Dave.

Getting more advanced: as … as

To describe two things that are the same, we can use as (adjective) as. For this, we don’t change the form of the adjective:

Tom is as tall as Dave.

We can also use not as (adjective) as to describe things that are not the same. Remember that we usually use contractions (for example, isn’t or aren’t):

Larry isn’t as tall as Tom.

Notice that because Tom is taller, Larry has to be first in the sentence.

We can also use not quite as (adjective) as to describe a small difference:

Dave isn’t quite as tall as Jim.

Originally from Sheffield, Yorkshire, Phil Stoneman has been living in Bogotá and teaching English since 2004. He teaches at, and is part of, the English coordination at Externado University. He’s taller than some people, but not as tall as others.

Quiz time!

Complete the following sentences using the correct form of the words in brackets. You can check your answers at the bottom of the page.

1.   Comedy films _________________________ (funny) horror films.

2.   Stephen Hawking _________________________ (intelligent) Kanye West.

3.   This food is terrible! This _________________________ (by far bad) restaurant in Colombia.

4.   He never does exercise so he _________________________ (much fat) me.

5.   Samuel and James have the same amount of money. Samuel _________________________ (rich) James.

6.   Cartagena _________________________ (not quite big) Medellín.

Answers (don’t look yet)

1.   Comedy films are funnier than horror films.
2.   Stephen Hawking is more intelligent than Kanye West.
3.   This food is terrible! This is by far the worst restaurant in Colombia.
4.   He never does exercise so he is much fatter than me.
5.   Samuel and James have the same amount of money. Samuel is as rich as James.
6.       Cartagena isn’t quite as big as Medellín.