English Grammar Help: Comparative Adjectives

Discussion in 'Languages' started by Prufrock, Apr 2, 2009.

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  1. Prufrock

    Prufrock Arbitrary Moderation

    All right, English buffs. I have a technical question regarding comparative adjectives which has come up a few times in something I'm translating.

    If you have two comparative adjectives, one of which is an "_____-er" (i.e., closer), and the other is a "more _____" (i.e., more liberal), what is the most proper way to relate them, when the "-er" is preceded by the "more" adjective?

    1.) "to a land more spacious and free."
    2.) "to a land more spacious and freer."

    The first sounds better, but the second seems more correct (though it sounds awkward). Does the inflected form of an -er adjective change when preceded by a "more" adjective?

    Also, if 1 is correct, and the inflected form changes for parallelism, would it also be proper to say: 1.) "more free and spacious," in place of 2.) "freer and more spacious"?
  2. greenbaggins

    greenbaggins Administrator Staff Member

    The word "more" is regarded as applying to both adjectives when the adjectives are connected by an "and," so it would be improper to use "-er" when also using "more." Therefore, option 1 is grammatically correct. However, saying "freer and more spacious" is just as correct grammatically as saying "more spacious and free." However, saying "more free and spacious" does not work, since the rule about "more" and "and" would only work if the multi-syllabic adjective is first.
  3. Jimmy the Greek

    Jimmy the Greek Puritan Board Senior

    I'm no grammarian, but I wouldn't use the word freer.
  4. greenbaggins

    greenbaggins Administrator Staff Member

    The general rule of thumb goes like this: with an adjective of one syllable, the typical comparative is formed with the "-er" ending. With adjectives of three or more syllables, the word "more" is used. With adjectives of two syllables, some more regularly take "-er," some take "more," and some can take either.
  5. Confessor

    Confessor Puritan Board Senior

    To avoid implying that the "more" is distributed to modify both "spacious' and "free" (or "freer," i.e. "more freer"), I would recommend saying, "to a land freer and more spacious." Otherwise, "more spacious and freer" would be grammatically correct yet awkward, while "more spacious and free" would be grammatically incorrect (assuming you are in fact stating a comparative degree of freedom) yet not awkward.

    Hence, I would go for a less awkward sounding and grammatically correct solution, "to a land freer and more spacious."

    I think what this boils down to is that using more + adjective when the adjective has a standard -er comparative form (e.g., "freer" or "better") is incorrect. In other words,, if "freer" is grammatically correct, then "more free" is grammatically incorrect -- just as "more good" is never substituted for "better."

    Hope that helps.

    -----Added 4/2/2009 at 12:54:38 EST-----

    I thought that it was incorrect to use "more +" forms of an adjective if the -er form is correct. "This room is more hot than that room" is not only awkward, but grammatically incorrect.

    Or am I mistaken?
  6. Prufrock

    Prufrock Arbitrary Moderation

    Thanks, Lane. I find it interesting that the comparative form changes to adapt to its placement within the sentence.


    I know -- freer just sounds strange; but it is, in fact, the correct form.
  7. Scottish Lass

    Scottish Lass Puritan Board Doctor

    Yup. Ditto what he says below, too!
  8. Jimmy the Greek

    Jimmy the Greek Puritan Board Senior

    The word free kinda reminds me of the adjectives round and flat.

    Strictly speaking, something is either round or it's not. It can't be rounder, even though that is a legit word. Something may be more nearly round or more nearly flat, but it can't be rounder and flatter than something else that is round and flat. :lol:

    I'm wondering if it's the same with the word free. :think:
  9. VictorBravo

    VictorBravo Administrator Staff Member

    A rather non-technical answer, more of shoot-from-the-hip: Two basic "rules": 1. one syllable adjectives typically take "er" and multiple syllable adjectives are preceded by "more"-- (not set in stone, of course--a matter of usage). 2. "More", when modifying adjectives (or nouns for that matter) in conjunction, applies to both.

    I think rule 2 overrides rule 1. "Spacious" and "free" in this context are adjectives. If you are going to use them in conjunction with "more", the "more" modifies both. So "more spacious and free" is correct. If you want the "more" to modify only "spacious", you'd have to recast the sentence to something like "a land more spacious; a freer land" or "a freer and more spacious land."

    The same would go for modifying nouns:

    "It had greater speed and mass." (If it didn't have greater mass, you'd want to be clear and say, "It had greater speed, and it also had mass.")

    So I think either of your last alternatives is correct because it works with the rule above. It becomes a matter of style and flow (or even poetic sense). "More free and spacious" implies to me that you think of both as related, whereas "freer and more spacious" tends to imply a distrete difference between the concepts. But I'd think both are correct grammatically. But "more free and spacious" sounds a bit less elegant because we are accustomed to hear "more" combined with a word of more than one syllable.

    Edited to add: Heh, I see Lane has already hit the points I made, and [-]more concisely[/-] conciselier too! :p
  10. Prufrock

    Prufrock Arbitrary Moderation

    Thanks, all. I appreciate you all more greatlier every day.
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