‘Badder’ sounds the same as ‘better’

by Jakub Marian

Tip: See my list of the Most Common Mistakes in English. It will teach you how to avoid mis­takes with com­mas, pre­pos­i­tions, ir­reg­u­lar verbs, and much more.

As you certainly know, the correct comparative form of “bad” is “worse”, but one can rarely hear also the slang term “badder” (often used just for the comic effect). Nonetheless, “badder” would have been the correct form if “bad” were regular.

In American English, better is pronounced as /ˈbɛɾɚ/. “Badder” would be pronounced as /ˈbæɾɚ/. Given that the American /æ/ sounds almost the same as /ɛ/ (as “e” in get) in words like “ladder”, it turns out that “badder” and “better” are virtually indistinguishable in American English (at least for non-Americans).

Isn’t it funny that the “regular” comparative form of “bad” sounds the same as its opposite, so there has to be a different word for “badder” to distinguish the two?

P.S. Of course, in British English they don’t sound the same: “better” is /ˈbɛthə/ whereas “badder” would be /ˈbædə/.

By the way, if you haven’t read my guide on how to avoid the most common mistakes in English, make sure to check it out; it deals with similar topics.