As we know, comparatives compare two things. So, for example, we say that one thing is larger or more temperate than another thing.

Now, let us consider the following examples.

A. The African elephant has bigger ears than the Indian elephant.

B. The African elephant has more big ears than the Indian elephant.

If A is "standard" English, why isn't B acceptable English? Is there a grammatical rule that impedes the more big comparative in B?

If this rule exists, why doesn't that apply to "He is more temperate than Carlo, and he chooses words carefully."—which is "standard" and acceptable English?


@J.R. is absolutely correct, and has provided an excellent example of the kind of ambiguity that can result when basic comparative adjective grammar rules are not followed. But the basic, teachable, and, in an EFL/ESL context, extremely relevant reason that bigger is correct, and more big is ungrammatical as a comparative adjective is because those rules have not been observed. The rules for forming comparative adjectives are fairly straightforward: (1) for one-syllable adjectives, add -er, (2) for two-syllable adjectives ending in -y, change the -y to -i and add -er, and (3) for two-syllable adjectives not ending in -y and all three-or-more-syllable adjectives, use the form "more + adjective".

There are exceptions to these rules, such as fun, the comparative of which is more fun even though it is only one syllable. Another example is often, which is as commonly rendered comparatively using oftener as it is more often. But @Carlo_R was asking for the grammar rules, and I have summarized them.

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  • Regards to more fun - I've heard "funner" used by American English native speakers before, although I'll agree it's certainly wrong in British English. I've also never heard "oftener" spoken in BE or AE. – Matt Feb 9 '13 at 21:53
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    Fun is a noun; often used attributively, but so far it has (mostly) resisted explicit recategorization. – StoneyB on hiatus Feb 9 '13 at 22:05
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    @StoneyB: Fun is also widely used as an adjective (We had a really fun time. What a fun T-shirt you're wearing. You're so much fun). – Matt Feb 9 '13 at 22:18
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    @Matt I agree that it's used attributively, and it's on its way to becoming a full-fledged adjective; but the resistance to funner, funnest suggest it ain't there yet. (And your third example is nominal: we don't use much with adjectives.) – StoneyB on hiatus Feb 9 '13 at 22:36
  • @StoneyB "What's the funnest part of wakeboarding for you?" – kiamlaluno Feb 19 '13 at 15:46

Careful! When you use the word more, it might mean something else. For example, Sentence B could be paraphrased like this:

The Indian elephant has two big ears, but the African elephant has three.

Don't use more when the context can be confused with quantity.

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'Why?' is a difficult question in grammar. It's not like some great designer created the language out of thin error, planning and constructing things to be as logical as possible.

Some grammar rules apply everywhere, and some rules have exceptions, and those exceptions have exceptions, except when people feel like saying something else.

The rule for comparatives in English is to say 'more X'.

The exception is, if X is short, then say 'X-er'. Usually 'short' means one syllable.

But short is not always obvious. If this shirt is red, but that one has more in it, then it is redder. If this one is purple the other one is more purple. But if this one is yellow... officially the other one is more yellow, but informally people will often say 'yellower'.

Why is there this rule? Language doesn't follow logic strictly (unless it feels like it). One can give a history of the effect, one can give logical justifications why one is easier to understand, (I personally think 'bigger' sounds better and less blunt than 'more big', but then I would because it is so natural to me) but really in the end it is often just fashion that governs these rules.

In short, that's just the way it is

(in other Germanic languages that make the comparative the same way, the rule might be different: in German, you only add '-er' for example 'intelligenter' which sounds funny in English, but surely 'more intelligent' sounds funny to Germans).

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    Out of "thin error"? Do you mean "Out of thin air"? – Matt Feb 9 '13 at 21:43
  • Yes Mitch, language is a form of human reason, which has its internal logic of which man knows nothing. Nevertheless this kind of answers will make ELL better than EL&U, thank you. – user114 Feb 9 '13 at 21:50

I disagree with many of you. I'm a native speaker of English and have been teaching EFL for 12 years, but I wouldn't say 'more big' is incorrect. Yes, it is awkward to say 'more big', and as @J.R. pointed out, it could become confusing if 'more' suggests a greater quantity of something. However, if you look beyond course book grammar sections and delve deeper into English grammar, you'll find that the terms 'correct' or 'just plain wrong' shouldn't be applied to rules so readily.

Tell me: what is the grammar rule that states outright that 'more big' is wrong? Could you not say 'less big'? I mean, there is a difference between saying something is smaller and something is less big. So the same grammar applies - adverb of degree + adjective.

Yes, you'd sound very awkward if you went around saying 'more big', 'more tall', 'more small' or even 'more funny', but please show me explicitly why it would be 'just plain wrong'.

And by the way, J.R., nobody says 'oftener', because often is an adverb of frequency. As far as I'm aware, you can only use the -er comparative with adverbs of manner which have the same form as the adverb, like fast. I can't think of an adverb of frequency that fits that bill.

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Sorry, but I know (thanks to my studies of the English grammar, many years ago) that we can say "bigger" cause "big" is a monosyllabic word, whereas "temperate" is trisyllabic and it cannot support the suffix "-er", in fact "temperater" would be ambiguous and too long to speak...maybe I'm wrong...So, I think there's no problem to say also "more big"....I don't know if it's forbidden at all

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  • No, “more big” is wrong. Read the other answers. For almost all monosyllabic adjectives, “X-er” is correct and “more X” is wrong. – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Nov 29 '13 at 10:08

You can say bigger or more big. Look here's an example," My dad is bigger than you" or, " My dad more big than you." See, look, more big is like a more polite way of saying it. Or with other -e-r-s. "You are most nice." It even works with most.

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    "More big" is not more polite; it is less correct. ("Most nice" is possible, but sounds odd; using "most" in this way is generally reserved for deliberately archaic politenesses, like "Why thank you, you are most kind.") – Nathan Tuggy May 22 '15 at 0:48
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    "more big" is not "less correct" - it is simply wrong. Adjectives with one syllable have the endings -er/est. – rogermue May 22 '15 at 3:20
  • @rogermue: Didn't see your comment until I came back around to check my downvotes. But yes, that's basically what I meant: "less correct" to the point of not actually being correct at all. (A bit of poetic contrast never hurt anyone.) – Nathan Tuggy Sep 8 '15 at 7:06
  • Well, perhaps my comment was too direct. @NathanTuggy – rogermue Sep 8 '15 at 8:07

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