Luke Taylor

Grammar Grater®

with Luke Taylor

Episode 68: Relatively Good

Last week on Grammar Grater, we talked about the comparative and superlative forms of adjectives. Before we leave this topic, it's important to touch on a couple reminders from Gordon Jarvie, author of the Bloomsbury Grammar Guide. The first is that some adjectives are irregular in their comparative and superlative forms; for example:
Good, better, best
Many, more, most

And Jarvie also reminds us that some adjectives cannot compare; they have absolute meaning. For example:
The explanation was more perfect than expected.

The word "perfect" has absolute meaning; that is to say, there aren't degrees of perfection. The word "more" can't be really used in front of it.
The explanation was perfect.

Here's another common example:
It was the most unique artwork I'd ever seen.
Again, there aren't degrees of uniqueness; either something is unique, or there's something else rather like it. As one might guess, true uniqueness is a rare quality.
The artwork is unique.

It should be noted that Fowler's Modern English Usage presents a good case that the word "unique" is losing its absolute meaning; that in common usage, it is a term that is gradable. That said, Fowler's recommends that "unique" still be used with caution as the debate about the word continues.

So taking advice from Gordon Jarvie and from Fowler's, when comparing adjectives, it's important to consider regular and irregular forms of adjectives, and to decide whether the adjective has relative or absolute meaning.

Sources: Bloomsbury Grammar Guide by Gordon Jarvie; Fowler's Modern English Usage by R.W. Burchfield.

Music from this Episode: "She Will Have Her Way" by Neil Finn; "You Don't Know Like I Know" by Sam & Dave

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