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How should I say, "The most tragic" or "the tragicest"? According to the rule, the second one is more preferable, but I have seen the first one as well as the second. So, is there any difference?

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    'Tragicest' isn't a word? Making the first one correct. – Andy Gould Apr 11 '16 at 14:06
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    What @Andy said. Offhand, I doubt there are any English adjectives ending in -ic that can be used with the comparative suffixes -er, -est. On the phonological front, I guess I could just about tolerate homesickest, but I'd much prefer most homesick anyway (and homesicker just sounds totally weird). – FumbleFingers Apr 11 '16 at 14:18
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    @FumbleFingers Take off the "home" and "sicker/sickest" sounds perfectly natural. – WBT Apr 11 '16 at 14:28
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    Which rule are you referring to? Where did you come across "the tragicest" and why do you believe that is an English word even though it can't be found in a dictionary? Wiktionary is a good place to look because it shows you the comparative and superlative forms of a word. – ColleenV Apr 11 '16 at 14:35
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    @Adam When this type of construction is used (e.g. intentionally making up a word or using a nonstandard form) there would usually be a k added, as in "tragickest", to fix the pronunciation. It's not exactly what I'd call a grammatical rule, since it's not really grammatical in the first place. – Era Apr 11 '16 at 16:06
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Most monosyllabic (1-syllable) adjectives seem to use -er/-est to form superlatives.
Most trisyllabic (3 syllables) or longer adjectives seem to use the "more/most" construction.
According to various grammar sites, there's no clear rule for bisyllabic adjectives, with some suggesting checking the dictionary to see if -er and -est forms are listed immediately after the root word (but I don't think that's great advice because one can publish a more consolidated dictionary by just leaving those forms out).

In this specific case, "most tragic" is clearly correct and "tragicest" isn't, but I have a hard time explaining any rule why, beyond deference to a dictionary. The best I can offer by way of a generalizable test is this Ngram which shows "most tragic" in reasonably common use and "tragicest" not found in the millions of books Google indexed. That strategy can be used to figure out which superlative form other adjectives typically take.

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    @C.M.Weimer: the historical reasons behind which words work which way are complicated; both word length and origins are certainly involved, but neither works as a definitive criterion. The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language has (as usual) a very good detailed discussion of this. But as a quick rule of thumb, number of syllables is pretty much as good as word origins, and is much easier to use in practice; it’s recommended by for instance the Oxford Dictionaries writers. [cont’d] – PLL Apr 11 '16 at 17:00
  • Just to give examples of some words with Latin origins (either via Norman French, or as later formations) that can take the -er, -est forms: fine, sane, common, petty, … – PLL Apr 11 '16 at 17:06
  • If this rule is correct it seems to illustrate the general principle that "languages are not logical", since Latin itself uses comparative and superlative endings (-ior/-ius and -imus/-ima/-imum), even for adjectives with irregular comparatives like bonus-melior-optimus. – alephzero Apr 11 '16 at 17:11
  • @alephzero Languages are not logical indeed. Here's a relevant question on that point I posted to EL&U just earlier today: Phrasal verbs with synonymous opposites – WBT Apr 11 '16 at 17:37
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As others pointed out already, most tragic is the correct form.

One-syllable adjectives use the -er and -est endings, and three-or-more-syllable adjectives do not, but there is no good rule that describes two-syllable adjectives. Some two-syllable adjectives use the -er and -est endings, such as happy/happier/happiest and feeble/feebler/feeblest, but others do not, for example famous and boring.

Note that for many adjectives, it is not really well-defined whether or not the -er/-est forms are acceptable. Sometimes native speakers will disagree. For example, once I translated a story into English and used the word tenderer. Tenderer is in many dictionaries and is attested in literature, and some of my editors accepted it without hesitation, but others said that it sounded awkward and insisted that I revise it to more tender.

When in doubt, you can always use the more and most forms. People will definitely notice if you say boringer or famousest, and they might even think tenderer sounds out of place, but I doubt anybody will react if you say more happy, even though happier is more common.


I also wanted to point out that if tragic had an -est superlative form, it would be spelled tragickest, not tragicest. The c in tragicest would sound like an s, and to my ear it sounds like a portmanteau of tragic and incest, or perhaps the superlative form of tragice (which is not a word).

Consonants are often doubled when a suffix is added (e.g. big/bigger, bat/batting, pad/padded). Whether or not a consonant is doubled will often change the pronunciation and meaning (e.g. hater/hatter, riper/ripper).

The doubled form of c is ck. This can be seen in the difference between slicing and slicking, and in words like magic/magicked/magicking.

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