Comparatively Speaking

Posted in: Better Writing, Editor

comparativeSome words are commonly mistaken for other similar words or homophones. To ease the confusion, refer to the hints and tricks to remember which word is appropriate.


Worse and worst are forms of the same word: bad. Each is a comparison. Unlike common comparative words which use a root, -er and -est, bad uses three different words for its descriptive, comparative and superlative forms.

Descriptive:    bad/badly
Comparative:  worse
Superlative:    worst

Descriptive is used to describe one person or thing. Comparative is used to compare only two. Superlative is used to compare three or more.

Other tricky comparatives in this vein are:

little, less, least
good/well, better, best
far, further/farther, furthest/farthest


Farther and farthest are used in terms of geographic distance.

The bread store is eight blocks farther than the florist.
Roguefort is the farthest town from here.

Further and furthest mean in addition to an abstract or immeasurable reference.

There will be no further delay.
His depiction was the furthest from reality.

Although used infrequently, furthest is proper. Many writers use farthest and furthest interchangeably.


Good is an adjective. It is used only to modify nouns (people, places, things).

I have a good idea of how to use this.
There are good solutions on offer.
She is a good manager.

Well is an adverb. It is used only to modify adjectives, verbs and other adverbs.

We have a well-rounded approach to hiring.
I feel well today.
The project was managed well.


Fewer refers to number.

There are fewer apples since the children ate lunch.

Less refers to observable amounts or abstract nouns.

There is less traffic later in the afternoon than the morning.
This project is getting less support than the last one.


When little is used to describe an amount (i.e. not a size), the comparative is less; the superlative is least.

There was little resistance to the measure.
There was less resistance than in the last vote.
This vote had the least resistance.

When little is used as a size, the correct comparative and superlative are littler and littlest, respectively.

Although the hedgehog was little, the bald mole was littler.
The field mouse was the littlest rodent in the yard.

Although littler and littlest are acceptable, smaller and smallest are more accurate when writing about size.

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