There was a question recently about comparatives and it got me thinking about how comparatives are formed.

There are those that take -er and those that use more to indicate comparison, but is worse the only comparative in English that is intrinsically comparative? That is, it is not necessary to modify it by adding a suffix or a helper.

Why is this the case? Looking at Etymonline seems to indicate that it came into English as a comparative already, which would I think explain its irregular form, but I don't know enough about etymology to know if that is a good guess. Are there other words like this, or is worse unique?

  • I've been holding out accepting an answer because both just offer a single counterexample and neither one has anything to say with regard to the last paragraph asking about the why. However, it seems we have a question about suppletion that has as good an answer as any with regard to the why of these irregularities, so I thought I would include it here. – Kit Z. Fox Dec 31 '12 at 12:19
  • Aren't "superior to" and "inferior to" comparatives? Nether uses -er or more. – Sven Yargs Mar 9 '13 at 2:24

Much/many, more, most and little/few, less/fewer, least/fewest are the positive, comparative, and superlative quantifiers in English. They come in two scales, with affirmative and negative increments.

Note that the negative scale distinguishes count (few, fewer, fewest) from mass (little, less, least) consistently, while the affirmative scale does so only in the positive degree (much, many); more and most don't distinguish mass from count - fewer people, less cheese; more people, more cheese.

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  • So more = more and fewer = with an -er, but less is different too. So is it just worse and less then? – Kit Z. Fox Dec 21 '12 at 18:03
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    +1 for the insightful note on fewer/less – Alok Dec 21 '12 at 19:46

It's not unique. "Less" is a valid comparative of "little."

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    I thought the comparative of little was littler. – Kit Z. Fox Dec 21 '12 at 17:56
  • @KitFox The comparative of I have little interest in X is I have less interest in A than I have in B. The superlative is I have the least interest of all of us. – tchrist Dec 21 '12 at 22:01
  • I think most people would say smaller instead of littler. – A.Ellett Dec 21 '12 at 22:54
  • @KitFox "Littler" is the comparative when you're talking about size. "Less" is the comparative when you're talking about degree. – user32047 Dec 22 '12 at 13:51

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