What are comparatives and superlatives?

What are the comparative and the superlative?
We use the comparative and superlative forms of adjectives and adverbs to compare things, people, actions and states in our writing. Find out how your child is introduced to this concept, how they will learn to form the comparative and superlative and how they will practise using them in the primary-school classroom.

What are the comparative and the superlative?

Adjectives and adverbs have three different forms: the positive, the comparative and the superlative.

The comparative form is used to compare one person, thing, action or state to another:

The superlative form is used to compare one thing to all the others in the same category; in other words, when the comparison is taken to the highest degree possible, for example:

The comparative and superlative are formed differently depending on the word's positive form.

  • Usually we add the suffixes -er and -est: warm / warmer / warmest
  • When the adjective ends in -e we drop it and add -er and -est: large / larger / largest
  • Adjectives that end in one consonant double it before adding -er and -est: red / redder / reddest
  • Adjectives ending in -y change it to i and add -er and -est: juicy / juicier / juiciest
  • Adverbs ending in -ly usually add the words 'more' (comparative form) and 'most' (superlative form): slow / more slowly / most slowly; lazily / most lazily / most lazily
  • Some adjectives use 'more' for the comparative form and 'most' or the superlative: famous / more famous / most famous
  • Some comparative and superlative forms of adjectives and adverbs are irregular: bad / worse / worst; much / more / most; well / better / best

Primary-school grammar: comparative and superlative

Children in Year 1 are taught how to use comparatives and superlatives (without being told that this is what they are called). They are taught that certain adjectives can have the endings (suffixes) -er and -est added to them to make new words, for example: dark / darker / darkest, fresh / fresher / freshest, etc.

Later in Key Stage 2, children will be taught how to add these endings to words ending in -y, for example: heavy / heavier / heaviest; happy / happier / happiest; nutty / nuttier / nuttiest.  (The rule here is that you remove the -y and then add -ier or -iest).

The correct term for the endings -er and -est is suffix (suffixes are groups of letters added to the end of a word). Children in Years 5 and 6 learn about various different suffixes and prefixes and how to add them to root words.

Are children tested on their understanding of comparatives / superlatives?

Children will probably not be specifically asked about comparatives and superlatives, but they may be asked to add a suffix to a root word. For example, they might be asked to add a suffix to the word juicy:

Possible answers are juicier, juiciest, juiciness or juicily, so the answer does not have to be a comparative (juicier) or a superlative (juiciest).

At-home practice to help with comparatives and superlatives

  • Ask your child to go on a word hunt. Get them to look in books and magazines all over the house and then write down any comparatives and superlatives they find (help them prepare two headed columns on a large piece of paper first).
  • Give your child three superlatives to put into their own sentence. For example, if you suggested calmest, earliest and fastest, they could make the sentence: 'He was the calmest student in the class, who always arrived earliest and finished his work fastest.'
  • Give your child some sentence starters containing comparatives for them to finish. For example: 'The window is bigger than....' (your child could finish with 'the kettle') or 'The oven is hotter than....' (your child could finish with 'the fridge').