One-syllable adjectives with comparative ‘more’ instead of -er

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 (PDF Version).

One of the first rules an English learner learns is that the comparative degree of monosyllabic (one-syllable) adjectives is formed by adding -er to the adjective (and, similarly, the superlative is formed by adding -est). Nevertheless, there are a few exceptions.

The following monosyllabic adjectives virtually always take the “more” and “most” form instead of the endings -er and -est, probably because they were originally thought of as absolute (non-comparable) adjectives (that is, they were adjectives like “third”; nothing can be “more third” than something else), but later turned out to be used in a comparable manner in certain contexts:

  • real – more real – most real
  • right – more right – most right
  • wrong – more wrong – most wrong
  • ill – more ill – most ill
  • worth – more worth – most worth
  • prime (“main”, “important”) – more prime – most prime
  • loath (“not willing to”) – more loath – most loath

The somewhat colloquial adjective “fun” cannot take the endings -er and -est either:

  • fun – more fun – most fun

Furthermore, both forms are in use for the following adjectives:

  • drunk (“intoxicated”) – more drunk / drunker – most drunk / drunkest
  • cross (“bad-tempered”, “angry”) – more cross / crosser – most cross / crossest
  • like (as in “they have like [similar] minds”) – more like / liker – most like / likest

Note also that adjectives formed from past participles of verbs cannot take the endings -er and -est:

  • lost – more lost – most lost
  • bored – more bored – most bored

Even adjectives which normally take the endings -er and -est are, rarely, used with “more” and “most”, such as when contrasting “more” and “less”:

A: Did you say it was less hot in there?
B: No, I said it was more hot.

or when expressing contempt or disgust and strongly emphasizing the negative quality:

There’s nothing more dull than having to listen to him.

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.

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