Expect to revise.
Write what you want in rough draft. Then, edit carefully. Here are some common problems with suggested fixes. There are, certainly, other possible repairs.
1. Fixes for comparisons that are incomplete.
Sally likes Sarah more than Benny.
Is the writer suggesting that Sally likes Sarah more than Sally likes Benny or claiming that Sally likes Sarah more than Benny likes Sarah? Either way, the reader is likely to stop to consider the writing rather than being immersed in the author’s ideas. The statement needs to be completed, but even then it sounds awkward. Simplify to get at the real issue:
Sally really doesn’t like Benny all that much.
She prefers to hang out with Sarah.
2. Fixes for comparisons that lack parallel structure:
This is the “apples and oranges” rule.
Eating apples is more healthful than gin.
This compares an action (eating) to a thing (gin). If it’s the action that’s at issue, compare it to some other action: “Eating apples is more healthful than drinking gin.” If the foods that are at issue, then move the focus to them:
In general, apples are more healthful than gin.
[This compares things.]
Exercise can be more healthful than lunch.
[Here, exercise and lunch are both things one can do.]
Jan prefers practicing the piano to mowing the grass.
[This compares gerunds…verbs acting as -ing nouns:
Jan prefers doing this to doing that.]
3. Fixes for comparisons that lack logic:
Sally’s hamburger is tastier than Jenny.
Now, it’s tacky enough to go munching on Jenny without suggesting she’s less tasty than a hamburger! Here, what is lacking is an apostrophe: Add an apostrophe + –s to make the proper noun ‘Jenny’ into a possessive. This saves her from becoming food:
Sally’s hamburger is tastier than Jenny’s.
Some things are simply not comparable. They are absolutes.
Things which are not amenable to comparison include the following: live, lost, damned, empty, complete, unique, full, possible, impossible, etc.
(This, of course, is not the case in the fictive world of zombies and vampires:
Staked and left in the sunshine, Vampire John achieved “forever death.”)
Sally was more damned once she used that word.
Your dress is more unique than mine.
It is possible to get more confused, or to go deeper into the woods, but people are either lost or they aren’t. An empty gas tank can’t get emptier.
John is closer to death than Steven, whose arm is just broken.
Sally felt she was truly damned once she used that word.
Your dress is unique; mine’s a cheap knock-off made in Bangladesh.
4. Fixes to correct comparative and superlative forms:
When comparing two things, be careful use the comparative form of the adjective rather than the superlative:
Of the two techniques – frying and boiling – frying is quickest.
Use the comparative with two things: quicker, better, faster.
Use the superlative form of the adjective when comparing three or more things: quickest, best, fastest.
Serving uncooked vegetables is quick.
Frying is the quicker of the two.
Consider the various cooking techniques (frying, baking, boiling, and drying, etc.): frying is usually quickest.
One syllable words use the endings (-er, -est). With two or more syllable words use more and most (spacious, more spacious, most spacious). These are not additive:
The deck is more spaciouser now.
Jen’s bike is more better with streamers on the handlebars.
Remember that the forms are not always identical: good, better, best for example. Spelling varies. When in doubt, run spell check or look them up.
5. Positive form: Use the positive form of the adjective if the comparison contains one of the following expressions:
as … as
Example: Jane is as tall as John.
not as … as / not so … as
Example: John is not as tall as Arnie.
Forms: An incomplete list
Original Comparative Superlative
good better best bad / ill worse worst little (amount) less least little (size) smaller smallest much / many more most far (place + time) further furthest far (place) farther farthest late (time) later latest late (order) latter last near (place) nearer nearest near (order) – next old (people or things) older oldest old
Purdue University. The Owl at Purdue. 2005. Web. Found 27 July 2014.
“Q&A. The Chicago Manual of Style Online. The Chicago Manual of Style. 2010. Found 30 May 2014.