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As I understand it, comparatives compare with something. So something that is colder is more cold than another thing. However, can't a word like colder be used as an adjective without being compared to something else? For example, is it ungrammatical to say the following?

People who live in colder climates should be careful about their heating bills.

The adjective cold could be inserted in place of colder, but I think the meaning would be different. To me colder sounds like 'somewhat cold' as opposed to 'absolute cold.'
So my questions are as follows:
1. Is this use of colder grammatical?
2. If so, is it still considered a comparative?
3. Do you agree with my understanding of colder vs. cold in the example?

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5  
I think colder here just means colder than average. There's an implicit comparison. –  onomatomaniak Oct 26 '11 at 14:34

2 Answers 2

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Sure, the name comparative does not proscribe the valency. It is just the form that is used when you are comparing two things.

In cases when you have one thing it can still be used.

Following cases are typical:
- we want to compare to some average
- the thing we are comparing to is already established from the context
- we want to be deliberately vague

In this case it is called null comparative.

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4  
+1 Beat me to it. Basically, you are comparing to something, you're just allowing the audience to infer what exactly that is. –  Dusty Oct 26 '11 at 14:41
    
That's exactly it, a null comparative. I should have read further down the wikipedia article myself when I was looking it up. Thanks –  Mark Oct 26 '11 at 14:48
    
@Dusty, yes I agree you not comparing explicitly, but implicitly (unless in case of established names e.g. Greater metropolitan area - though even those were established through comparison). –  Unreason Oct 26 '11 at 15:39
1  
Aside: the null comparative is a favorite form in advertisements, because it tends to build up the product while still being vague about what is being said, and avoids explicitly mentioning competing products. –  mgkrebbs Oct 26 '11 at 20:36
  1. It is grammatical.

  2. Yes, it is still the comparative form of the adjective cold.

  3. Although no other climates are mentioned, there is an implied comparison with climates that are not so cold. Colder climates could include the coldest ones, so to that extent some colder climates could be more than 'somewhat cold'.

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