Tag Archives: superlative

Never let it rest

On several occasions recently, I’ve made a mental note to look up a specific rule of grammar pertaining to comparative and superlative adjectives. As is often the case, once I go searching, I find it’s not that easy.

In elementary school, these adjectival forms were presented in a nursery rhyme beginnig with “Good, Better, Best.” If it weren’t for the fact that I often hear the superlative used incorrectly, I’d say there’s no need for a refresher. (Better, the comparative, pertains to two items, as in “She is the older of the two children.” Best, the superlative, pertains to three or more, as in “He is the tallest boy in the class.”) I’ll come back to violation peeves in a moment, though I’ve griped before.

Here’s the use about which I was uncertain. Maybe you know.

Is it “one of the more…” or “one of the most…” and is there a difference? Finding a definitive—and authoritative–answer has taken deep mining.

To the ear, or my ear anyway, “one of the more” seems incorrect, simply because there are likely more than two nouns being compared. Without thinking too hard, I’d be inclined to say “one of the most.”

In fact, I was editing something yesterday when I came upon “one of the more” and changed it. Oops?

As I always do, I combed through my various style guides and grammar books and found nothing firm on the subject. However, I did read through volumes of online debate.

Some of the word usage bloggers insist that “one of the biggest” is absolutely incorrect, but I found their logic a bit flimsy. Others argued to the contrary.

I invite your comments on the subject. Does either comparative or superlative prevail when following “one of the” and why? Your opinions are welcome, but I’d really appreciate it if you’d cite your sources. Please don’t support your position with the notion that the other one sounds funny. We all know there are plenty of correct phrases in English that sound funny. As much as we might wish otherwise, not sounding funny is no basis for grammatical correctness.

Back to basic comparative and superlative, I wish people with two children stopped referring to one as the oldest and the other the youngest, when one is the older and the other the younger. Easy enough.

One blog I read cited lexicographer H.W. Fowler‘s assertion that exceptions can be made for idioms. I’m not sure I buy into that.

For example, if comparative (the –er form of an adjective) applies to only two, then why do humans put our “best foot forward?”

Likewise, why do we strive to have “the best of both worlds?”

This is one of the things that most keep me up at night. Or is it more?

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Say it’s so

There is a rule of grammar I learned long ago and practiced for years. Now I am doubting its existence because I can’t locate it anywhere. It has to do with comparative adjectives, using the word “as.”

For example: “She is as nice as her sister.”

I was taught—or so I thought—that, when the sentence is stated in the negative, “as” becomes “so.” For example, “She is not so tall as her brother.”

It seems either I dreamt this rule or it has disappeared from modern language. I am away from home, so I don’t have my arsenal of style guides and manuals handy. A cursory search of online sources appears to prove me wrong.

Can anyone verify whether “so” was ever correct when used in the negative? I heard a host of 60 Minutes use  “so” comparatively just last Sunday. The interview was on in the background, but my ears perked up because I had been contemplating this issue lately. I’d be grateful if someone could set me straight or at least bring me up to date.

Contemplating the comparative does stir two peeves within me.

The first is when a speaker follows the comparative with an objective, rather than a subjective pronoun:  “She is old as us,” rather than “she is as old as we.” The “are” is implied. The night before last, I was comforted to hear Tony Bennett use the subjective pronoun correctly, through the speakers of a restaurant:  “I wanna be around to pick up the pieces when somebody breaks your heart, somebody twice as smart as I.”

The second has to do with comparing two or more persons or objects. It’s fundamental, but perhaps calls for a refresher. When comparing two, the suffix “er” is used. Here, if a modifying adjective precedes the comparative adjective, “more” is used.  For example: “John is the taller of the two boys.” Or “John has more children.”

When three or more nouns are being compared, the superlative comes into play. In this case, “est” is the suffix. “Mary is the eldest of the three sisters.” Or “Mary has the most freckles.”

If you have two children, you don’t refer to one as your oldest or youngest.

Notice I ended with the comparative rules about which I am most certain. In the meantime, the first—“so” versus “as”—will continue to gnaw at me. Anyone?

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