Based on “A student’s Introduction to English Grammar”, R. Huddleston, G. Pullum
Comparative and superlative gradeMany adjectives inflect for grade: they have plain, comparative and
ADJECTIVE DETERMINATIVE ADVERB I PLAIN tall many soon II COMPARATIVE taller more sooner III SUPERLATIVE tallest most soonest
The inflected forms of tall and soon are regular (i.e., they are formed by general rules). The forms for many, however, are irregular
The superlative and set comparison• I Max was the tallest boy in the class. • II A prize will be given to whoever scores the most points. • III I chose the life policy that will mature the soonest
In [I], the comparison is between the set of boys in the class with respect to height: Max occupies a higher position on this scale than all the others.
In [II], the set is not expressed in the sentence itself but it is implicit: it consists of those participating in some competition in which points are scored. The scale is the number of points scored. The prize will be given to the participant who ranks top on this scale.
In [III], the comparison is between a set of life insurance policies, ranked by date of maturing. I chose the one that matures before all the others.
The comparative and term comparisonThe comparative form, by contrast, is predominantly used in term comparison -
comparison between a primary term and a secondary term
• I Max is taller than Tom. • II Sue scored more runs than I did. • III This policy will mature sooner than that one.
In [I] the comparison is between Max's height and Tom's height. The sentence doesnot say how tall either of them is absolutely, but expresses the relation between them. We can describe the meaning by using variables, as in algebra: "Max is x tall; Tom is y tall; x > y (i.e. x exceeds y)".The primary term in [I] is "Max is x tall", and the secondary one is "Tom is y tall". In [II], "Sue scored x many runs" is primary and "I scored y many runs" is secondary. In [III], "this policy matures x soon" is primary and "that policy matures y soon" is secondary.
Set comparison with comparativesComparative grade is also used in set comparison when the set has just
COMPARATIVE SUPERLATIVE a. Kim is the taller of the two. b. Kim is the tallest of the three.
The comparative form taller is inadmissible in [b] .
Non-inflectional marking of gradecomparative and superlative grade may be marked by a separate word, more
or most, rather than by inflection. Examples are given in:
More and most(a) More as determinative
(b) More as adverb
Less and leastThe words less and least similarly belong to both the determinative andadverb classes. As determinatives they are inflectional forms of little; as adverbs they function as degree modifiers. These examples illustrate for the comparative:
(a) The determinative less
Matters are complicated, however, by the fact that less (unlike little) is often usedwith plurals:
i It costs less than twenty dollars.ii Less/Fewer than twenty people attended the meeting.iii He 's had fewer/less jobs than me.
(b) The adverb lessMore marks superiority (a higher degree on the relevant scale), while less marks inferiority (a lower degree).
Comparison of equalitySuperiority and inferiority represent two kinds of inequality, but there are also comparisons of equality. This, like inferiority, is always marked by a modifying adverb, rather than by inflection :I Kim is as tall as Pat.II Kim is as energetic as Pat.In some contexts, primarily negatives, the adverb as is replaceable by so, and in some familiar phrases it is omitted altogether:I It wasn't so straight forward as I'd been led to expect.II The sea was flat as a pancake.
Non-scalar comparisonThere is also a type of comparison where the issue is not a matter of relative degree but simply of identity or similarity. We call this non-scalar comparison. The prepositions as and than are found here too, so we can generalise the contrast between equality (marked by as) and inequality (marked by than):
There are two items, however, that license a than complement for all speakers,namely other and else:I There must be some other way of doing it than this.II Anyone else than you would have complained.
Comparative clausesThe prepositions than and as often take as complement a distinctive typeof subordinate clause called a comparative clause:
A further case of as in non-scalar comparison of equality
In the examples of preposition as + comparative clause given so far, the as is in construction with the adverb as marking scalar equality or with the adjective same marking non-scalar equality. As can also occur in non-scalar comparison without any such preceding item to license it:I As we'd expected, he refused to compromise.II He didn't behave as he usually does.
Comparative clauses as complement to like
In non-scalar comparison of equality we also find comparative clauses after thepreposition like - though like takes content clauses as well. Compare, then:I They don 't get on like they used to. [comparative clause]II It looks like it 's going to rain. [content clause]
Exercises1. Re-express the content of the following in a more natural way using comparative or superlative constructions.
i The extent to which my dad is big exceeds the extent to which yours is.
ii Brian is the swimmer who is ranked top in the world as regards speed.
iii That is a fish that is ugly beyond the ugliness of any fish I have ever seen.
iv I wish I had a degree of intelligence that outstrips what I actually have.
v The extent to which you are a good guitarist would increase if the time youpractised were to increase.
2. Underline all the comparative clauses (and nothing else) in the following examples (all from Lewis Carroll's Alice books, Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass).
i It was as much as she could do, lying down on one side, to look through into the garden with one eye.
ii 'But then,' thought Alice, 'shall I NEVER get any older than I am now ?‘
iii 'If everybody minded their own business,”the Duchess said in a hoarsegrowl, 'the world would go round a deal faster than it does.'
iv This piece of rudeness was more than Alice could bear: she got up in greatdisgust, and walked off.
v It was evidently more than he could manage by himself; however, she managed to shake him out of it at last.