The task is 'Complete the sentences by changing the words in brackets into comparative adverbs'.

The sentence is 'Julie's guests arrived slightly ... (early) than she expected'.

Finally, the answer is 'earlier'. However,

  1. The BC Learn English Web site saysTwo or more syllables: Alan finished the test quickly. > more quickly > most quickly. The table is attached at the end.
  2. 'Early' consists of 2 syllables according to multiple sources including this one

Regarding these two pieces of information, the right answer should be 'more early'.

I read this thread before writing this question but it doesn't provide an answer to my question because the approved answer accepts 'speak slower' as correct -which may perfectly be, I don't have enough knowledge to judge- however; 'speak slower' is incorrect English according to the rules and guidelines listed on BC Learn English Web site -which I cited on the top- as 'slower' consists of 2 syllables.

My question is why does 'more early' is not the answer?

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  • 2
    It's incorrect to fix 2 syllables as needing 'more' since it's variable for 2 syllables: English uses 'earlier'. Second row "ending in e," doesn't seem to be needed. Sep 11, 2022 at 14:26
  • 1
    I've never heard of that rule. Early is certainly an exception to it. Sep 11, 2022 at 14:30
  • 1
    You need a better source. Try onestopenglish.com/support-for-teaching-grammar/… — and note the words generally, usually, sometimes, and exceptions. Sep 11, 2022 at 14:52
  • Happier, sillier, etc. Stupider is common.
    – Stuart F
    Sep 11, 2022 at 18:23
  • I am not sure if this is relevant: remove the adverbial ending from "quickly" and you have the adjective. (quickly/quick) But removing the adverbial ending from "early" does not yield a valid adjective. Euphony is an opinion, but "earlier" is much easier to hear than "quicklier."
    – dclxvispqr
    Sep 11, 2022 at 21:44

2 Answers 2


The actual rule is:

If there is only one syllable, add "er" (there are exceptions to this — more fun).

If there are two syllables, it depends on the word: early → earlier, silly → sillier, simple → simpler, but stupid → more stupid, orange → more orange, likely → more likely. For some adjectives, both forms are acceptable.

If there are three or more syllables, use more. I don't know of any exceptions to this.

  • 2
    Some types of 3-syllable words derived from productive prefixes can still take normal inflections. For example, there’s a lot of publication history for using words like unhappier and unhappiest and even uncommonest, perhaps because those start out life as happy and common. On the other hand, sometimes even short words derived from Latinate sources instead of Germanic ones resist those, like the way we are more apt to say more just than juster, or for that matter to say more apt than apter, especially in this century.
    – tchrist
    Sep 11, 2022 at 16:26
  • @tchrist: more uncommon and more unhappy are commoner than uncommoner and unhappier, so I don't think you can go wrong with the rule with three or more syllables, use more. (Although less common and less happy are even more common.) Sep 11, 2022 at 17:19
  • 1
    Phonologically, bisyllables ending in /i/ or /o/ frequently take -er, e.g, earlier, narrower, livelier, easier, nastier, hollower, ... Sep 11, 2022 at 19:18

A complete description of the formation of comparatives for adverbs is given in CoGEl (A comprehensive grammar of the English laguage). (It is complete as far as it treats the main points) The rule for adverbs is derived from that for adjectives.


(CoGEL § 7.81) Choice between inflectional and periphrastic comparison

The choice between inflectional and periphrastic comparison is largely determined by the length of the adjective.
(a) Monosyllabic adjectives normally form their comparison by inflection:
low - lower - lowest
Real, right, wrong, and the preposition like take only periphrastic forms:

  • She is more like her grandmother.
    She is liker her grandmother.

However, most other monosyllabic adjectives can take either inflectional or periphrastic comparison.
(b) Many disyllabic adjectives can also take inflections, though they have the alternative of the periphrastic forms:

  • Her childre are politer/more polite.
  • Her childre are (the) politest/(the) most polite.

Disyllabic adjectives that can most readily take inflected forms are those ending in an unstressed vowel, [syllabic l, as in "able"] or [schwa (r coloured schwa in AmE)], eg:
-- y: early, easy, funny, happy, noisy, wealthy, pretty
-- ow: mellow, narrow, shallow
-- le: able, feeble, gentle, noble, simple
-- er, ure: clever, mature, obscure [user LPH's addition: not"eager","proper",etc.]


(CoGEL § 7.83) Comparison of adverbs

(e) Adverbs that are identical in form with adjectives take inflections: fast, hard, late, long, quick. They follow the same spelling and phonological rules as for adjectives, eg:
early - earlier - earliest

  • You have to work harder/faster/longer. Then-er - -est inflections cannot be added to open-class adverbs ending in -ly :

  • quickly -- more quickly quicklier
                   -- more quickly quickliest

When earlier is synonymous with before (that) or previously, and when later is synonymous with after (that), they are not comparatives of the adverbs early and late.

Note that "most readily" in "7.81 b)" implies no unique choice and nothing as to the preference between the two use, which each user of English has to determine through experience; the following ngrams show that.

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"More early" is not exactly a form that you could call wrong, but it is hardly used in comparison to "earlier".

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Although the pages of examples for "more early" contain numerous occurrences, a patient examination will show that a great many of those are false positives (for instance, "more" does not modify the adjective but instead the noun it qualifies). Nevertheless, the periphrastic form is found often enough (even fairly recently) and it is sometimes used to some advantage, so that it seems possible to say that it is not really incorrect.

(ref., 1972)... And if this was the case then , we may safely conclude , that the Unitarians were much more numerous in a more early period , as it is well known that they kept losing , and not gaining ground , for several centuries

(ref., 2003) This evening Mr Hume not quite so well , and goes to bed at a more early hour than he used to do . Ferry bridge , Sunday , 28th

(ref., 1974) .. the latter more early useful ... than they should otherwise be

(ref., 1973) I would therefore recommend to every parent to begin the establishment of authority much more early than is commonly supposed to be possible

(ref., 2000) Open bite could even be correlated with yet inadequate growth of the jaws to accommodate the disproportionately large size of the more early - maturing tongue that must posture forward for accommodation within the oral cavity

(ref., 1807) Sometimes it happens , by badness of weather , & c . that a considerable quantity is fown the first week in december , but the more early fowings generally produce the strongest crops

(ref., 1858) The improvement is most strongly marked in the acute cases , and the more early the operation the more successful is the result obtained

(ref., 1858) but there are causes which operate in promoting its more early maturity

(ref.,1958) Pyrus serotina pear require more amount of nitrogen through the growing year , more moisturous and fertile soil , to start more early and rapid growth than apple eventhough the Korean weather condition in spring season is always

In this preceding case the use of the periphrastic form is quite understandable as "more" applies also to "rapid".

(ref., 1814) The sweetness of climate ad fertility of soil in Asia Minor, were favourable to a early icrease of population, and consequently to the more early organization of civil society.

This new occurrence seems justified by the need to make it clear that what is meant is not "preceding organization".

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