Column: The most superlative you


Commentary by Curtis Honeycutt

Since Julius Caesar proposed the aptly named Julian calendar in 45 B.C., people have been making bold resolutions to improve themselves. For the record, Caesar’s resolution didn’t work that year, as his best friend literally stabbed him in the back the following year. This arbitrary turning of a new calendar page gives us a sense that this year things can be different. Possibilities abound — until you start comparing yourself to other people.

If you go to the gym in January, for example, it’s not fair to compare yourself to the guy who is bench pressing a Volkswagen in front of the mirror; he’s stronger than you. Of course, going to the gym leads me to think of grammar questions, like when do you add “-er” to a comparative adjective and when do you add “more” in front of it? There should be rules about these things.

Fortunately for us, there are rules on comparative adjective construction! For adjectives with just one syllable (like “strong” in the example), simply add “-er” to the end of the word. In the case of two-syllable adjectives that do not end in -y (and for all adjectives with three or more syllables), add “more” before the word. Examples include “more generous” and “more intelligent.” When two-syllable adjectives end in “y,” change the “y” to an “i” and add “er.” This is the case in words such as “skinnier” and “happier.”

When you compare three or more things, you move from the realm of the comparative into superlative territory. “I was the weakest person in the entire weight room,” you might write in your exercise journal. With one-syllable adjectives, simply add “est” to make an adjective superlative. If the adjective already ends in “e,” simply add “st.” For short words that follow the consonant-vowel-consonant pattern, double the last consonant before adding “est.” For example, “My wallet wasn’t the fattest in the country club, but it also wasn’t the thinnest.”

For two-syllable adjectives ending in “y,” also add “est” to form the superlative. For most other two-syllable adjectives, add the word “more” before the adjective. I had the happiest, most peaceful start to my year! For most three or more syllable adjectives, use the “most” construction.

Whew, I’m out of shape on my grammar rules. I resolve to get faster, better and stronger when it comes to my grammar game this year.