Degrees of comparison

An adjective can exist in three forms – the positive degree, the comparative degree and the superlative degree.

The positive degree is the base form of the adjective. It merely states that a certain quality is present. The comparative degree expresses the presence of a certain quality in a higher degree. The superlative degree expresses a maximal degree of some quality.

The following examples will further explain these points.

Silk is soft.

Silk is softer than cotton.

Of the three – silk, cotton and wool – silk is the softest.

The positive adjective soft merely states that silk has the quality of softness. The comparative adjective softer indicates that the quality of softness present in silk is greater than that in cotton. The superlative adjective softest states that the quality of softness is the greatest in silk.

Another example is given below.

Peter is an intelligent boy.

John is more intelligent than Peter.

Of the three boys – John, Peter and Harry – Harry is the most intelligent.

When a comparison is made between two qualities of the same person, we always use a structure with more. Note that comparative forms with –er are not used in this case.

He is more wise than brave. (NOT He is wiser than braver.)

She is more kind than pretty. (NOT She is kinder than prettier.)

Sometimes most is used to denote the specified quality in a very high degree without an idea of comparison. In this case, we do not usually use the with most.

He made a most impassioned speech. (= He made a very impassioned speech.)

It was a most unfortunate situation. (= It was a very unfortunate situation.)