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Excerpt from Cambridge Dictionary of American English:

If you want to use an adjective or adverb to say that a quality is of a higher degree, you can usually add -er (one-syllable adjectives) to the end of it or qualify it with more (adjectives of two ore more syllables).

e.g. your hair is longer now than it was last year.

To say that a quality is of a lower degree, you can usually add -er (one-syllable adjectives) to the end of a negative adjective or adverb, or qualify it with less (adjectives of two ore more syllables).

e.g. your hair is shorter now than it was last year.

My question is: How can we say that a negative & one-syllable adjective is of a higher degree? I mean, if "shorter" somehow means "more short", how can I say that something is "less short"? And if "longer" somehow means "more long", how can I say that something is "less long" than another thing?

A friend of mine suggested that the only way of saying the opposite of "negative adj + er" is to say "positive adj + er". (i.e. shorter -> longer). My take is that whether "adj + er" means "more adj" or "less adj", entirely depends on whether the used adj. is positive or negative respectively. Is my understanding correct? Is it possible to say the opposite of "shorter" to convey the meaning of "less short" without using a different adjective?

Rephrased question:

For non-one-syllable adjectives:

If A is more beautiful than B, then B is less beautiful than A.

Why is there no such ability in English to bidirectionally compare one-syllable adjectives as well?

If A is rounder than B, then B is (???) than A.

share|improve this question
'-er' or 'more' means 'relatively further in that direction'. 'X is shorter than Y' means you need to subtract something off from Y to get X. You are being too mathematical; you are wondering if -2 is less than -200 or greater and that depends on what order you care about at the time, -2 is smaller in magnitude than -200 (by absolute values) but larger (to the right) on an absolute scale. – Mitch May 28 '13 at 20:14
@Mitch I should of used another adjective. "short" is not a good example for it's making things seem mathematical. – Meysam May 29 '13 at 6:18
I'm curious...does your native language or some other language you know have the construct that you feel is missing from English? – Mitch May 29 '13 at 22:52
@Mitch In my native language, no matter of how many syllables an adjective is, two things can be compared interchangeably with "more" and "less" which is missing for one-syllable adjectives in English. Even if English was the only language spoken in the universe, from what I have described above it should be clear that something that can be done in two-or-more-syllable adjectives, is missing in one-syllable ones. – Meysam May 30 '13 at 1:22
So you're trying to find a single word version of 'less short' or 'less ugly' or 'less (anything)'. There isn't one in English. (There isn't one in German, where there is no two word for 'more X', you always say 'X-er'). Why? One can only guess, and I'd say because that relation is easily said the other way 'A is (less X) than B' = 'A is 'unX'-er than B: "A is less-short/taller than B"). – Mitch May 31 '13 at 13:20

I believe you are misunderstanding slightly. If I may rephrase the second quote:

To say that a quality is of a lower degree, you can usually EITHER add -er (one-syllable adjectives) to the end of a negative adjective or adverb, OR qualify it with less (adjectives of two ore more syllables).

To get lower degree you don't qualify the negative with 'less' you qualify the original with less. So for the adjective "pretty" the greater degree is "prettier" or "more pretty". The lower degree is "uglier" or "less pretty".

"More short" is not generally used because "short" is a one-syllable word. "Less short" is also not generally used, but if it were would mean "longer" - i.e. it has less of the property of "shortness", not less of the property of "length".

share|improve this answer
You generally wouldn't say "less short", you would say "not as short". Similarly, you wouldn't say "less tall", you would say "not as tall". I don't know for what class of adjectives you use "not as" rather than "less", although it seems to include all the ones talking about size and weight. – Peter Shor Jun 30 '13 at 15:33
@PeterShor You could post your comment as an answer. – Meysam Jul 1 '13 at 7:28
Except after some investigation, I think I'm wrong. Some people do say "less short". They don't say "less small" for some reason, but while to me "less short" sounds just as bad as "less small", other people use it. – Peter Shor Jul 1 '13 at 13:36

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