Comparatives are used to compare one thing to another- they often have an ‘er’ ending. Superlatives are used to compare more than two things- they often have an ‘est’ ending. So ‘Holmes is better than Watson’ (because there are only two of them) but ‘George is the best character in the Famous Five’ (because there are more than two of them).
A common error is using the superlative when there are only two things in contention:
‘Of the two methods, the oldest was better’ should be ‘Of the two, the older was better.’
Double comparisons are also not acceptable in standard English:
‘She was the most greatest’ should be ‘She was the greatest’.
‘She is more faster’ should be ‘She is faster.’
Additionally, I also see ’empty comparisons’, the use of a comparative without a base:
‘Today was better.’ Than what? It should be made obvious to the reader what you are comparing.
Also, superlatives are often over-used in writing. Unless used stylistically, exaggeration can become a barrier to how much the reader will understand and trust your statements. Think of the number of times advertisers use superlatives- do we really believe that their product is ‘the best’?
Not all multi-syllable adjectives take ‘er’ and ‘est’. This is where ‘more’ or ‘most’ is used before the adjective.
For example ‘The sofa was the most comfortable seat in the room’.
I hope that’s helped. Let me know what you think or if there’s anything else you’d like explained or discussed. As always, I’d very much appreciate if you could share or like this if you found it useful! Thanks!
These two are commonly confused. Here are the rules:
‘It’s’ is short for ‘it is’ or ‘it has’.
‘It’s been a long time coming.’
‘It’s not you, it’s me.’
‘It’s a massive hot air balloon shaped like Darth Vader’s head.’
‘It’s rather intimidating.’
‘Its’ is used as the possessive: when something belongs to the ‘it’ in question.
‘The jury has reached its decision: the guy in all the sellotape is not the real Iron Man.’
‘The dog chased its tail.’
‘Its colour was unexpected.’
‘The group changed its name.’
Could you put ‘it is’ in the sentence instead? Then use ‘it’s’. Could you put ‘him’/’her’ in the sentence? Use ‘Its’.
I’d love to hear from you if you have a good way of remembering this, any questions or good examples!
Often, ‘less’ is used when ‘fewer’ is meant. This is easily done, particularly as we are often taught that ‘less’ is the opposite of ‘more’. Basically, use ‘fewer’ when talking about a countable number, but ‘less’ when you mean something that doesn’t have a plural or can’t be counted: ‘fewer dancers have less visual impact.’
‘Fewer people are learning the foxtrot at school these days.’
‘The shop sold fewer feather boas than ever before this year.’
‘Fewer than one in ten adults can perform a proper samba.’
‘There are fewer dance numbers in films than there used to be.’
‘I dance to less pop music than I used to.’
‘There’s less talent than there ought to be.’
‘I should spend less time trying to do the lift from Dirty Dancing.’
‘Less’ is only ever used with numbers when they are on their own or used as expressions of time or measurement:
‘The tap class lasted less than two hours.’
‘She travelled less than three metres with that leap.’
I hope this will help you make fewer errors in the future!
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Essentially this means saying the same thing twice, also known as self-reinforcing statements. For example: ‘revert back’; ‘equally as good’; ‘an essential prerequisite’. If the repetition does not add to the meaning, this can seem clumsy. I often see variations of ‘very unique’. Unique is an absolute, thus the first word is redundant.
The same goes for ‘new innovation’, ‘added bonus’ and my least favourite of all, ‘she herself’. There are some tautologies that are ubiquitous: ‘free gift’, for example. The Oxford English dictionary defines ‘gift’ as ‘a thing given willingly to someone without payment.’ Thus ‘free’ is in the definition and so unnecessary.
Avoiding tautology will make your writing sharper and mark you out as the sort of writer that chooses their words carefully and constructs something accurate and original.
Have you noticed any tautologies lately? As always, I’d love to know what you think, and do please share if you found this useful!
Choosing to use the active or passive voice can change the tone and emphasis of a sentence considerably. Active is usually more direct.
When using the active voice, the noun relates to the verb directly:
Stop! Grammar Time
‘MC Hammer wore incredible trousers.’
In the passive voice, the subject follows the object:
‘Incredible trousers were worn by MC Hammer.’
The active voice is used far more commonly in creative and journalistic writing. The passive voice is often used in business materials and formal writing. Also, the passive voice can be useful in creative writing if the writer is making a point of distance or detachment between the subject and the object or the action. Additionally, it can be used to avoid repetition of ‘I’ at the beginning of sentences.