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Language Focus: Comparatives and Superlatives

Learn about using comparative and superlative adjectives in the context of physics.
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Hi and welcome to this week’s language focus on making comparisons. Language to make comparisons was used in the reading passage about gravity. Here are some examples from the passage. ‘In other words, the force of gravity is stronger when the objects have a larger mass and are closer together’. ‘Jupiter has the strongest force of gravity.’ The adjectives ‘stronger’, ‘larger’ and ‘closer’ in the first example, as well as ‘strongest’ in the second example, are being used to make comparisons. Do you know how to make comparisons in English? That’s what you will look at in this step.

Introduction to Comparative and Superlative Adjectives

It is common in physics to make comparisons to describe the motion or properties of an object. You might compare properties such as speed, mass, distance, or force.

Comparative Adjectives

Comparative adjectives are used to describe differences between objects or nouns.

Here is an example from the reading on gravity:

In other words, the force of gravity is stronger when the objects have a larger mass and are closer together.
In this sentence, stronger, larger and closer are comparative adjectives.

Superlative Adjectives

Superlative adjectives are used to describe the noun that has the highest or lowest degree of a characteristic.
Here’s an example:
The largest planet in the solar system is Jupiter.

Form

Rules about the form of comparatives and superlatives are based on the number of syllables in the adjective and the ending of the adjective. This includes the use of vowels or consonants. The 5 vowels in English are a, e, i, o, u. All other letters are called consonants.

Adjectives with 1 syllable

For adjectives with only one syllable, you generally add -er for comparatives and -est for superlatives.

Adjective Comparative (-er) Superlative (-est)
small smaller smallest
high higher highest
great greater greatest

If the adjective ends in a single vowel + a single consonant, the final consonant is doubled. Here is an example with the adjective big. An extra g is added to the comparative and superlative forms.

Adjective Comparative (-er) Superlative (-est)
big bigger biggest

If the adjective ends in -e, like the word large, you only need to add -r or -st.

Adjective Comparative (-er) Superlative (-est)
large larger largest

Adjectives ending in y

If the adjective ends in a consonant followed by a y, like heavy, the y is removed and -ier or -iest is added. This is true for both 1- and 2-syllable adjectives that end like this.

Adjective Comparative (-er) Superlative (-est)
heavy heavier heaviest

Adjectives with 2 or more syllables

Most other adjectives that have 2 or more syllables take more or most to form the comparative and superlative.

Adjective Comparative Superlative
significant more significant most significant

Use

The adjective that you choose to use depends on the noun or variable you are describing. Here are some common adjectives that are used to describe different variables in physics:

Speed & Velocity

Adjective Example
faster Aeroplanes are faster than trains.
slower Walking is slower than driving.
higher/greater Trains travel at higher/greater speeds than trams.
lower Cars often travel at lower speeds if it is raining.

Acceleration

Adjective Example
greater Acceleration on Earth is greater than on the moon.
lower Lighter planets have a lower rate of acceleration.

Mass

Adjective Example
greater The mass of Jupiter is much greater than the mass of Earth.
less The mass of Earth is far less than the mass of the Sun.

Weight

Adjective Example
heavier Objects are heavier on Jupiter than they are on Mars.
lighter Objects are lighter on the Moon than they are on Earth.
less If you travel to the moon, you will weigh less than on Earth.
greater Weight is greater when acceleration is greater.

Distance & Displacement

Adjective Example
farther London to Sydney is farther than Tokyo to Sydney.
closer My house is closer to the school than it is to the university.
greater The total distance travelled was greater than the displacement.
smaller The distance by boat is shorter than the distance by car.

Force

Adjective Example
stronger/greater The force of gravity is greater/stronger on Jupiter than on Mars.
weaker/smaller Where I live, the force of the wind is weaker/smaller inland than it is on the coast.

Discussion

In the comments below, try writing your own comparative and superlative sentences using some of the adjectives from this step.

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