You can find bluer, redder, greener, and whiter in the dictionary, but not blacker. This seems mystifying.

In his "El Paso" song, Marty Robbins sang,

"Blacker than night were the eyes of Felina."

During the recent Presidential campaign, some pundits asked,

"Is Mitt Romney blacker than Barack Obama?"

NASA has created a new nanotube material that is

"blacker than black paint," according to various published reports.

There are several official shades of black, such as taupe and ebony, leading to the presumption that some shades are "blacker" than others.

Since "blacker" is not in the dictionary, would the proper usage be "more black"?

  • 8
    @Carlo: The words blacker and blackest are historically much more common than more black and most black. See this Ngram. The increase in "more black" and "most black" around 1970 has nothing to do with comparatives or superlatives. Rather, it is because that is when "black" became the politically correct word to call African-Americans, rather than "colored" or "Negro". May 5, 2013 at 20:45
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    @PeterShor As in "more black people..." or "most black Southerners..."
    – Charles
    May 6, 2013 at 2:42
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    In the scale of grays from black to white, one direction is "blacker" and the other direction is "whiter".
    – GEdgar
    May 14, 2020 at 13:18
  • Related: english.stackexchange.com/questions/293974/…, esp. Peter Shor's comment on the question.
    – Conrado
    May 14, 2020 at 15:32

4 Answers 4


The reason that some dictionaries do not contain "blacker" and "blackest" is that "black" is considered to be an absolute adjective. This is the same reason you are not supposed to say "more perfect", "more unique", "whiter", "deader", or "fuller". See, for example, this web page.

There are lots of people who do not abide by this "rule". For example, Shakespeare, Procol Harum and the writers of the United States Constitution.

  • As I mentioned in an earlier post, "true" and "truer" and "false and "falser" are all in the dictionary. You can even put the "gradable adjective / absolute" argument to the ultimate test. Both the U.S. and World Scrabble Dictionaries list "absoluter" and "absolutest" as valid words! I don't know where they got them though. I have yet to find them in any other authoritative dictionary.
    – Bill Oakey
    May 5, 2013 at 21:55
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    If only black was absolute - those of us who work in optical engineering would save a huge amount of time, money and effort.
    – mgb
    May 6, 2013 at 3:22
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    We usually use 'black' to mean 'near-black', of course. Then 'blacker' is short for 'more nearly black'. I'm planning on using 'purpler', 'pucer' and 'cyaner' someday, though 'magentaer', 'heliotroper', 'caeruleaner' and 'lateritiouser' would obviously be ill-formed. May 6, 2013 at 17:50
  • @EdwinAshworth "ceruleaner" sounds like someone from Cerulea
    – Charles
    May 6, 2013 at 18:10

What dictionary are you using? With a quick online search, I see the word "blacker" in these:

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    In their definition for "black," Merriam-Webster references the phrase "tried to play blacker jazz." But the word "blacker" is not listed as part of the definition. Similarly, Oxford references "blackest" in a sentence. But whereas both of them list "bluer" and "bluest" as specific derivatives right below the main definition, neither dictionary lists "blacker" and "blackest." As for the "Wiktionary" and "Dictionary.com," I do not consider those to be as authoritative as Merriam-Webster, Oxford, and Collins.
    – Bill Oakey
    May 5, 2013 at 20:39
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    @Carlo_R.- "Rules" are made to be broken- especially when talking about English. I've never heard of that rule, and I'm not really convinced that it even is a rule. lighter, tighter, smaller, taller, colder, hotter, harder, neater ...
    – Jim
    May 5, 2013 at 20:52
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    To Carlo_R, It is the words with more than one syllable that can often not be appended with an "er." See the Oxford Dictionary's discussion of this topic: oxforddictionaries.com/us/words/…
    – Bill Oakey
    May 5, 2013 at 21:16
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    @BillOakey I'm trying to understand what kind of answer you're looking for. Blacker and blackest are both commonly used words. Do not use more black which just sounds awkward. It sounds to me that your dictionary is deficient or overly pedantic.
    – Charles
    May 5, 2013 at 22:05
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    @Carlo_R.: you have the rule wrong. It is multisyllabic words that cannot add the suffix '-est'.
    – Mitch
    May 5, 2013 at 22:30

As technical terms, blackest and blacker are still going strong:

Acktar Black ™– world blackest coating – now 1% reflectance from FUV to FIR

World's blackest material unveiled

Blacker Than Black:

Black is black, right? Not so, according to a team of NASA engineers now developing a blacker-than pitch material that will help scientists gather hard-to-obtain scientific measurements or observe currently unseen astronomical objects, like Earth-sized planets in orbit around other stars. The nanotech-based material now being developed by a team of 10 technologists at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., is a thin coating of multi-walled carbon nanotubes — tiny hollow tubes made of pure carbon about 10,000 times thinner than a strand of human hair.

  • 2
    And don't forget Father Ted's assertion that priests wear blacker socks than anybody else.
    – Mynamite
    May 6, 2013 at 0:05

I used to see "Blacker" fairly frequently when film cameras were still the mainstay of photography.

Obtaining a "true black" was difficult with color negative film. So when a manufacturer would come out with a "new, improved" film they would often say, "Richer, more thoroughly saturated colors with whiter whites, and blacker blacks."

(What they used to call "white" and "black" fell short of the mark, and the new improved film achieves better results. But I would note, that then next generation of film might make the same claims all over again.)

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