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My mom and I are having a dispute on much more easy versus much easier. For example, consider the sentence:

It's [much more easy]/[much easier] to do action X than action Y.

I say that much easier is correct and that much more easy is grammatically incorrect, while she says that both are okay. I understand that both are acceptable colloquially, but which is grammatically correct here? If you could explain why, that would be even better!

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4 Answers

The comparative (and superlative) in English are always morphological for words of one syllable:

  • harder, wider, smaller, bigger, older

and periphrastic for words of three (or more) syllables:

  • more interesting, more successful, more suggestive, more polyglot

It's the words of two syllables where we get into trouble:

  • more useful, more decent, more careful, more tender, more helpful

but

  • easier, happier, sillier, narrower, simpler.

Generally, if a two-syllable word ends in /i/ or /o/ (e.g, easy, happy, silly, narrow), then it gets the morphological -er and -est. Otherwise it's more and most.

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There appears to be a change underway, though, whereby the analytic comparative is gradually gaining ground generally, e.g. "colder" > "more cold". –  Neil Coffey May 17 '12 at 4:12
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That's pretty much true of all inflections in English. Syntax has got momentum in English; we're in the power stroke of the Grammaticalization Cycle. –  John Lawler May 17 '12 at 13:27
    
Does "much" out front make a difference? Eg one might usually prefer "easier" to "more easy" but still prefer "much more easy" to "much easier". –  jwpat7 May 17 '12 at 14:12
    
Different people have different preferences, and variations; the rhythm of much more easy might appeal to some, in some contexts, more than the rhythm of much easier. Or vice versa. This is a grey area, as Neil points out above. –  John Lawler May 17 '12 at 14:24
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"tenderer" and "tenderest" are just about ok, and are used (perhaps rarely, admittedly) -- probably because "tenderer" is a noun as well. –  Andrew Leach May 17 '12 at 15:36
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In a related question, John Lawler wrote

easy: easier, easiest, ?more easy, ??most easy

to indicate that construction more easy is questionable, and most easy still more questionable. However, there are cases where easier sounds worse to me than does more easy, particularly in cases like

My heart is more easy now.
*My heart is easier now.

That is, when easy means relieved rather than not difficult, more easy and most easy seem better than easier and easiest, and I think in such cases their use is not questionable.

In BlackJack's example ("It's [more easy]/[easier] to do X than Y"), I have no problem with either more easy or easier, and slightly prefer easier.

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Thanks, jwpat7. I'd forgotten that one. And you're right about that sense of easy, because it's metaphoric and idiomatic. –  John Lawler May 17 '12 at 2:58
    
I tend to agree: I have a difficult time conceiving how much more easy could be breaking a rule. Things like "more easier" don't really break a rule either, excepting perhaps the rule about avoiding redundant redundancy. –  horatio May 17 '12 at 16:01
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Re: monosyllabic adjectives.

Sometimes, they take "more" and "most" (the following is based on The Oxford guide to English usage, 1994, and The Cambridge grammar of the English language, 2002):

  • the following monosyllabic adjectives usually take "more" and "most": cross, fake, ill, like, loath, prime, real, right, worth, wrong;
  • past participles (bored, drunk, lost etc.);
  • in constructions of the type "more good than bad" or "more dead than alive";
  • for stylistic reasons, e.g. "I am the more bad because I realize where my badness lies." (L.P. Hartley).

Martin Parrott (2000) adds one more case: when you want to make a specific contrast with 'less', e.g.:

A: Did she say it was less cold in the north of the country?

B: No. She said it was more cold.

Huddleston and Pullum 2002 argue that there is a difference between

(a) Ed is older than middle-aged. (his age is beyond middle age).

(b) Ed is more old than middle-aged. (metalinguistic comparison: Ed is more properly described as old than as middle-aged).

In the Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written English, there is a section on doubly marked comparatives and superlatives (7.7.5), e.g.:

She's a bit more nicer than Mrs. Jones (CONV)

It's much more warmer in there. (CONV)

The authors of the Longman grammar - btw, it's descriptive, corpus-based - say that "such forms are stigmatized and generally considered unacceptable - unless they are used jokingly in Standard English" (p. 525).

cf. Celce-Murcia and Larsen-Freeman (1999): "double marking of comparatives is a developmental phenomenon that never completely disappears in the informal speech of some English users" (p. 729).

There is a excellent paper where doubly marked comparatives and superlatives are discussed at length - Solomon, G. 1994. A more closer look at comparatives and superlatives. Unpublished paper. UCLA.

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In terms of casual use , the forms easier/more easy tend to appear respectively by their difference on meaning; easier tends to appear in specific contexts where it means ' freed' or ' released' and 'more easy' is more likely to come up if it literally means ' less difficult ( than) '

HUDDLESTON AND PULLUM -

I used to solve problems like that in cognitive linguistics, duh....

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