Sunday, July 20, 2008

Comparative Adjectives Work Better

Today's public service announcement concerns comparative adjectives and the abuse thereof. Be careful when using these handy tools and remember that an added suffix that shows the degree of comparison makes a “more” or “most” superfluous.

While Branford Marsalis may have believed that he had more better blues than, say, Satchmo or BB King, what he really had was Spike Lee's grammatical error. Comparative adjectives and adverbs like better and taller work without the modifier “more”, unless you use the positive form (more swift or more good, although the latter makes no sense when better is around).

You can say that Mr. Marsalis plays more, better blues. In this case, you apply two comparative adjective to one noun, “blues”. You could also write that Keb' Mo' has more and better blues than Johnny Lang. The problem comes when you attempt to make a comparative adjective more so. Daft Punk may work better, harder, faster, and stronger, but they would never act “more faster”. They may, however, move more quickly, using an adverb modified by the comparative “more”.

You need “more” and “most” only when the word you choose does not accept the “-(i)er” or “-(i)est” suffixes and does not have irregular forms like bad, worse, and worst. You could write about the more haphazard arrangements or the most beautiful sunsets, but the beautifulest landfill exists only in the minds of lazy grammarians.

I need not make this post longer. Someday soon, I'll tackle the list of adjectives that does not accept degrees of comparison. Many fans of the English language hold that pet peeve near and dear. Until then, be cautious in your comparisons.