More + one-syllable adjectives in comparatives

Discussion in 'English Only' started by Macunaíma, May 18, 2009.

  1. Macunaíma

    Macunaíma Senior Member

    Um ninho de mafagalfinhos
    português, Brasil
    Well it's been a long time since I last posted here! It's good to be back :)

    I'm currently preparing for a very difficult English examination and I've been making an effort to be attentive even to the smallest details and finest points of grammar as they might be decisive to my overall performance in the exam (I somehow have to trick the examiners into believing that I'm proficient in English and not only conversant in English). But I'm getting off the track, as usual.

    My question is: I have always noticed the usage, especially in more formal language, of the formula more + adjective even when the adjective has an inflected form for the comparative, as is normally the case with one-syllable adjectives. I was just listening to a report on the BBC website in which the reporter says: " (...) the situation for the Somali government, which was fragile at best, is looking even more grim". Although I was aware of this before, I'd never really given it much thought and just stuck to the inflected forms whenever applicable, but now I'd like to hear from native speaker (or non-native speakers, for that matter) what they consider to be the reason why someone chooses to use more plus the adjective instead of the -er declension. I supposed it's a stylistic choice, but does it make the speaker sound more formal? Is it possible to do this to all adjectives which are usually inflected in every-day language?

    Any input will be appreciated, even if it's just to say how you feel about this usage.


    P.S.: I'm aware that when comparing two attributes of the same thing, using more is the rule, as in: "she's more tall than attractive" (nevermind if it doesn't make sense). My question is about comparisons between different entities.
    Last edited: May 18, 2009
  2. MichaelW Senior Member

    English (British)
    It's a rhetorical choice, I could say "grimmer" but if I say "more grim" with stress on both words it sounds... grimmer.

    the situation for the Somali government, which was fragile at best, is looking even more grim

    If I'm a newsreader I can stress as above getting across the point "Somali government - fragile - more grim" and I can further stress the "more" and then the "grim" separately, which I can't do with "grimmer". Spondee vs trochee.
    Last edited: May 18, 2009
  3. EnchiladaJack Senior Member

    USA, English
    I hate to say it, but it just depends on the adjective and how it sounds in context. The general rule of thumb is that one-syllable adjectives get an "-er" in their comparative form, adjectives with three or more syllables get the "more" treatment, and two-syllable adjectives are wildcards (i.e. some can get an "-er" or an "-ier," others get the "more" everytime, and some can go either way). I say general rule of thumb because, as you've pointed out, it's not uncommon to hear even some one-syllable adjectives get the "more" treatment, especially in more formal or "serious" speech.

    "Grimmer" is a perfectly valid comparative form of "grim," but it sounds slightly odd for no good reason at all, which may be why the reporter used "more grim" construction.

    Now take "funny." In almost every context, I would use "funnier" as its comparative, and yet the command "be more funny" sounds perfectly normal to me. However, the sentence "John was more funny than Sally" sounds slightly odd, and I would probably say "John was funnier than Sally" instead.
    Last edited: May 18, 2009
  4. cuchuflete

    cuchuflete Senior Member

    Maine, EEUU
    Oi Macunaíma,

    You bring a fine question. The answer is...

    I don't think there is any "rule" governing the selection. It is, as others have suggested, about style. At times you may see the least used form for emphasis; if it sounds just a little 'off' without being wrong, it will draw attention to the adjective.

    That cat is blacker than night.

    That cat is more black than night.

    The second example is probably less frequent than the first and thus stronger.
  5. Macunaíma

    Macunaíma Senior Member

    Um ninho de mafagalfinhos
    português, Brasil
    Oi, Cucheflete! :) Long time no see!

    Thank you all very much for replying. I didn't expect there was a rule, but you have given me what I was looking for - now my suspicion that it adds an extra element of formality and emphasizes the message is confirmed. I was more interested in finding out how this usage was perceived than finding rules (one can hardly expect rules in the English language, I guess, and perhaps that's what makes it so interesting).

    Thanks again,

  6. Forero Senior Member

    Houston, Texas, USA
    USA English
    "More grim" seems to keep more of the force of absolute "grim" than does "grimmer", as "very grim" seems weaker than plain "grim". "More grim" forces the reader to slow down and think and makes grim sound heavy and quite serious. In contrast, "grimmer" goes by too quickly for this context and sounds almost comical.
  7. Lucky_16 New Member

    I have searched all kinds of dictionaries for one example of 'more grim' but cannot find it.
    I copied the sentence in question and pasted it into Microsoft Word, then press F7 (spelling and grammar checking) - it identified 'more grim' as wrong and suggested 'grimmer'.
    Can I call the combination of words which cannot be verified in the dictionary, for example 'more grim', non-standard English?
    I'm looking forward to replies, thank you.
  8. ewie

    ewie Senior Member

    Another Country
    English English
    Hullo Lucky. No, not at all. If dictionaries listed every single comparative and superlative form in full, they'd be huge. Most dictionaries don't do so in order to save space.

    There's absolutely nothing wrong with more grim. Take Microsoft Word's 'corrections' with a pinch of salt: sometimes they're good, sometimes they're just plain rubbish.
  9. Lucky_16 New Member

    Hi Ewie,
    Thanks for your reply, but I'm afraid I do not share the assumption that some comparative forms, 'more grim' for instance, are left out to save space and avoid hugeness.
    To be specific, let's take a look at the word 'common' in Merriam-Webster's Learner's Dictionary.
    Here's the link.
    At the meaning #2 and #6, comparative forms are written in full, but at #1, #3, #4, and #5 there are no comparative forms. Do you think that they (1, 3, 4, 5) are left out to save space?
  10. ewie

    ewie Senior Member

    Another Country
    English English
    I (genuinely) think that's just an editing error, Lucky. There's certainly no point in listing them (in exactly the same way) twice.

    :eek:EDIT: Oops, I should've looked at the link before answering.

    The difference between those different entries is that for senses 1, 3, 4 and 5 common is sort of 'fixed', you can't (reasonably) have comparatives or superlatives for those senses, e.g.:
    1: common consent:tick: commoner consent:cross:
    3: common cold:tick: commonest cold:cross:
    5: common courtesy:tick: commoner courtesy:cross:

    I imagine the reason they don't list more grim and most grim in their entry for grim is that they're over-strictly applying the rule* that monosyllabic adjectives form their comparatives and superlatives with -er and -est.
    * Which isn't really a rule at all ~ it's more a guideline.
    Last edited: Sep 11, 2012
  11. Forero Senior Member

    Houston, Texas, USA
    USA English
    From the Help for MW Online:

    In general, it may be said that when these inflected forms are created in a manner considered regular in English (as by adding -s or -es to nouns, -ed and -ing to verbs, and -er and -est to adjectives and adverbs) and when it seems that there is nothing about the formation likely to give the dictionary user doubts, the inflected form is not shown in order to save space for information more likely to be sought.
  12. ewie

    ewie Senior Member

    Another Country
    English English
  13. Lucky_16 New Member

    Ewie, I am sorry for that ...

    Forero, thanks for your reply, but I'm not sure I'm with you.
    I guess the main idea in the quotation is "the inflected form is not shown in order to save space." However, what we are talking about is not about the inflected form - we are talking about 'more grim' and it is a comparative form only.

    It is a fact that 'more grim' is refused admission to the dictionary.
  14. ewie

    ewie Senior Member

    Another Country
    English English
  15. Biffo Senior Member

    English - England
    My thought on this is that very common adjectives such as good, bad, small, light and so on sound wrong when used with 'more' simply because we are so used to hearing the inflected form. There are other adjectives such as 'grim' which rarely turn up in conversation and so our ears aren't attuned to detecting a lack of inflection. When you combine this with the wish to emphasise the adjective, the non-inflected form sounds acceptable.

    Unfortunately (and perhaps understandably) I can't think of many rarely-used single-syllable adjectives.
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2012
  16. Lucky_16 New Member

    Thanks Biffo for giving opinion,
    You say 'more small' and 'more light' sound wrong to you. But if I asked Mr Ewie about them, I believe that he would answer without hesitation: "there is nothing wrong with them."
    So there's no way for both to be correct, right?
  17. Biffo Senior Member

    English - England
    In that case I think you should ask him. I have never heard anyone say 'more small'.
  18. Andygc

    Andygc Senior Member

    British English
    Lucky_16. I'm having great difficulty in understanding what point you are trying to make. "More grim" has not been refused admission to the dictionary. As you have been told, prefixing with more is a normal way of producing the comparative - the dictionaries don't need to list it because it is a normal structure. Learners' dictionaries are a special form of dictionary which expand on points that are most relevant to learners but which must then leave out much else.
    There are several examples of "more grim" in the British National Corpus. If you actually read what ewie wrote, you will see that he added in Post #14 "generally". There is a handful of adjectives which do seem wrong treated in this way, but they are very few indeed.
  19. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    Lucky_16, I think there are several things going on here.

    First, this seems to be an area in which English is currently changing: here's Michael Swan on the subject:
    Other current changes in small corners of grammar include the gradual replacement of inflected comparatives and superlatives (commoner used to be commoner but more common is now more common)....

    as Biffo says, while we are comfortable using the -er, -est endings with short everyday words, we might not always do so with words which are less common in everyday speech. Take the word "apt", for example: I would be much more likely to say "more apt" than "apter".

    Third, in Macu's original sentence, "more grim" was preceded by "even", and people are quite likely to see "even more" as a unit. So while I wouldn't say "it's more small", I might well say "it's even more small" instead of "it's even smaller".

    As regards the dictionary angle - well, dictionaries reflect usage, they don't create it. Just because something isn't in dictionaries yet doesn't mean it's "non-standard".
  20. ewie

    ewie Senior Member

    Another Country
    English English
    I'm also failing to see what point you're making, Lucky.

    If you read what I've said previously, you may notice that what I'm saying is that the uninflected forms are possible with all adjectives generally*, so there's no need for dictionaries to list them all individually.

    *It takes fairly unusual circumstances for us to say more bad or most good, but it is possible, and it does happen.
  21. Lucky_16 New Member

    Hello -,
    I felt things started to get complicated and wanted to leave in peace, but I now realize that it's not the right thing to do to leave that way. So I'm back.
    Let's start with Mr Ewie's statement: "the uninflected forms are possible with all adjectives generally."
    There is a small test on comparatives on the net. The 1st question of the test is as follows:
    Here's the link for reference.
    If one follows the above statement, s/he will choose c. However the correct answer is a (smaller).
    How do you explain this?

    << text deleted >>
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 20, 2012
  22. EStjarn

    EStjarn Senior Member

    I'd explain it with that the surrounding text doesn't allow 'more small' (or if it does, it's in such unusual contexts that for the purposes of learning how to use English comparatives there's no point in considering them).

    If the sentence had been

    It's even ____ than mine.

    then perhaps c) would have been the better answer (cf. Loob's post 19 regarding 'even more').

    As the original test sentence stands, though, I'd say a) is the best option.
    Last edited: Sep 20, 2012
  23. Forero Senior Member

    Houston, Texas, USA
    USA English
    "It's more small than mine" sounds wrong to me, except as something like the example "She more tall than atractive" in post #1.
  24. lic.danielguerra New Member

    Español mexicano
    Ok, I think the original point here was:

    Why are the following adjectives not normally compared with "ER"? (lost, fun, grim, clear, live, red...)
    If you know a long list or link about this group of adjectives, PLEASE comment!
    An explanation or rule doesn't seem to exist I think.
  25. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    You raise an interesting point, daniel!

    Here are my reactions:
    (1) "fun" isn't an adjective: it's a noun
    (2) We do say "clearer", "redder" and "grimmer"
    (3) We don't use "-er" with adjectives derived from past participles such as "lost"
    (4) "live" is a fairly unusual adjective: it has a limited range of use.

    Other people may have different reactions:).
  26. Biffo Senior Member

    English - England
    I don't think you can say 'more live' either. What would it mean?
  27. lic.danielguerra New Member

    Español mexicano
    "fun" can also be an adjective according to Webster: a fun city. Which city is more fun/funner...Vegas or NY?
    Yes, people say "clearer" but also "more clear". I'm pretty sure there's a link that shows us a good list of these ONE-SYLLABLE adjectives.
    As you said, PPV-derived adjectives are part of this explanation, but what about the others??
  28. MikeLynn

    MikeLynn Senior Member

    I'm sorry Loob, but my computer dictionary, New Oxford American Dictionary, has this entry:
    fun: adjective (funner funnest) informal; however, I don't think I've ever heard funner, which has just been "underlined" by my spellcheck. Funnier is fine, but funner? As for live, I'd say that there are adjectives that are never, or rarely, used in comparative or superlative and I'm afraid live, as an adjective, is one of these. Livelier and more alive sound okay, but liver? :confused: M&L
  29. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    I think you may have just proved my point, M&L:). "Fun" (noun) can certainly be used to modify other nouns - we use nouns to modify nouns all the time in English.

    As I said, other people's reactions may be different....
  30. Forero Senior Member

    Houston, Texas, USA
    USA English
    Liver of course has lots of interpretations without being taken as a form of live.

    When alive comes in front of the noun it modifies, it becomes live:

    A lizard that is alive is a live lizard.

    But though I may sometimes feel more alive, I don't think I ever really am more alive, so I would not be a more live person.

    However, live has other meanings that can also come after the noun:

    An actual live performance would be more live than a show that is "recorded live".
    Don't touch this high voltage line. It may turn out more live than you.
    Last edited: Nov 27, 2012
  31. lic.danielguerra New Member

    Español mexicano
    I found a good link guys:

    Special adjectivesSome adjectives have two possible forms of comparison (-er/est and more/most).
    positive comparative superlative
    clever cleverer / more clever cleverest / most clever
    common commoner / more common commonest / most common
    likely likelier / more likely likeliest / most likely
    pleasant pleasanter / more pleasant pleasantest / most pleasant
    polite politer / more polite politest / most polite
    quiet quieter / more quiet quietest / most quiet
    simple simpler / more simple simplest / most simple
    stupid stupider / more stupid stupidest / most stupid
    subtle subtler / more subtle subtlest / most subtle
    sure surer / more sure surest / most sure

    PD: also the ones we were discussing: clear, fun...etc

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