Friday, June 12, 2009

Nicer than the Nicest

Greetings grammophiles! It is summer in Indiana and time to relax, so I want to discuss something a little less mind-bending than "over-nominalization." About a year ago, we received an email question at the OWL about the comparative of the adjective "clever." Is it "cleverer" or "more clever?" The dictionary recommends "cleverer," but almost everyone I talk to about this hedges toward "more clever." I think it's because "cleverer" sounds like a car engine that doesn't want to start.

Anyway, most people have been reciting "good/better/best" since elementary school days, but I am interested in some of the more obscure comparatives and superlatives out there, like "cleverer." Here is a small list of adjectives that do not have an easy "gut feeling" answer. Ask yourself whether you would create a comparative by adding an "-(e)r" to the end of the word or placing a "more" in front of it.


Well, if you're stumped, you aren't the only one. I have actually learned a lot from researching this post. I have given the "recommended" answers in the comments section--just to keep you from cheating. As always, additions, arguments, or anecdotes are welcome (how's that for alliteration?).

Brady Spangenberg


Brady Spangenberg said...

Okay, here are the "recommended" answers.

more common
more obscure
more unique*
more unsure

*If something is "unique" to begin with, how can you logically compare it to something else? "Unique" belongs to a class of adjectives called "absolute," meaning that these words express total completeness of a given condition. You be the judge whether a word such as "unique" can be relativized. Other words include "complete, perfect, and equal."

Linda said...

I agree, apart from surer". And I'd probably only say "stupider" because it sounds stupid, so it emphasises the point. Anyway, that's my gut feeling.

carlene said...

My response was as recommended
one deviation would have been clever, but that was already a given
i would have thought more, most etc

LoriA said...

Isn't there a syllable rule when it comes to the comparative/superlative forms of adjectives? If memory serves me, I thought the rule is that if the adjective has more than one syllable, one should use "more" or "most" instead of "er" or "est." I'll bet like everything in the English language, though, there are probably exceptions to that rule. :)

Anonymous said...

I would prefer more clever and more stupid. It would be fun to check a collection of dictionaries to see if all agree.

hemccrory said...

As to the syllable "rule," it is more of a guideline than a rule from what I understand (like most things in English). In other words, there are exceptions. But, at any rate, the guideline is use more/most for a word with 3+ syllables such as "beautiful."

larin said...

I rather like that stupid comes with the -er, rather than the more addition. Otherwise how could we say "That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard!"? Really, doesn't that sound better and more emphatic than "That's the most stupid thing I've ever heard!"?

Anonymous said...

Not sure I agree with cleverer and surer. I was going to disagree with stupider too, until I saw larin's comment, which convinced me it has to be stupider/stupidest. As for the absolutes, don't forget the founding fathers formed a "more perfect" union. In that case, as in others, I think the use of a comparative/superlative form with an absolute is done for emphasis.

Anonymous said...

Can someone please give me a url for some site that guides more on syllables? Thanks

Anonymous said...

Unique is an absolute meaning something that is not like anything else so something can't be more unique or uniquer than something else, it shouldn't even be on this list

Anonymous said...

To the people saying they doubt cleverer and surer. I think it becomes obvious when you consider the superlatives cleverest and surest. You would never say most clever or most sure.

Also, there is no rule to do with the number of syllables. It's more fun not funner.

Anonymous said...