I have seen both "properer,the properest" and "more proper, the most proper" in my reading, though they are all quite rare to see.

I am wondering what is the exact comparative and superlative form of "proper" ,or if it has any comparative and superlative forms.

  • 1
    It has not any specific distinguishable forms. One says "more" and "most" proper. – mr.gaussian Oct 28 '13 at 2:48

For single-syllable words, it's usually -er/-est. For three-syllable and longer words, it's usually more/most. But for two-syllable words like proper, there is no easy answer; it's very nearly a 50/50 split between the two alternatives!

In this case, we can figure it out by querying a corpus of modern English, such as the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA):

  Search term     Results
  -------------   ----------
  properer        0
  properest       2
  more proper     46
  most proper     22

As you can see, there's a strong preference for more/most for this word in American English.

Sometimes usage varies between the US and the UK. To find out if that's the case here, we can repeat our queries on the British National Corpus (BNC):

  Search term     Results
  -------------   ----------
  properer        1
  properest       2
  more proper     7
  most proper     5

This corpus is a little smaller, so the overall numbers are smaller, but we can again see a preference for more/most.

Based on these results, I recommend sticking with the periphrastic more proper and most proper.

  • 1. You have written "usually" in your first sentence for the respective cases. I would like to see an exception of this "rule" - is it actually a rule or just a guideline, which fits almost always? So what is an example for an 1-syl. with "more/most" and a 3(or more)-syl. with "-er/-est". 2. Does there exist a third option/exception besides "-er/-est" and "more, most"? – mr.gaussian Oct 28 '13 at 4:06
  • 2
    Sure, you can come up with exceptions to both rules. We say "I couldn't have been more wrong", not "I couldn't have been wronger". And we still say as Alice once did, "Curiouser and curiouser!" – snailcar Oct 28 '13 at 4:26
  • 1
    I'll also offer as a general guideline that if a word already ends in "-er", then we don't want to stick another "-er" on after that (so "properer" would not be preferred); whereas if a word ends in "-y" (or "-ly") the "-er/-est" forms are standard. I don't doubt that exceptions can still be found, but hopefully they're quite rare. – Hellion Oct 28 '13 at 14:38

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