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In a composition, I'm trying to make a comparison between three characters who, besides other unfavorable traits, are extremely rude and grabby. Choosing synonyms for the description, I faced the problem of using comparatives and superlatives of the adjectives ill-bred and tight-fisted.

Michael Swan says that some compound adjectives, such as good-looking and well-known, have two possible comparatives and superlatives - better/best-looking/known and more/most good-looking/well-known, but he still says "some compound adjectives", and I have found no other examples.

The question is:

What about the two which trouble me? Would it be correct and natural for a native English speaker to use "the tightest-fisted of the three" or "he's even iller-bred than the two", or will the use of more/the most with the compound adjectives like these be always a safe path?

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    Just a comment, since I don't have sources or logic really, but as a native speaker "the most tight-fisted" or "more ill-bread" sound natural, while "the tightest-fisted" etc. sound very strange.
    – Sarah
    May 23 '16 at 18:02
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    I agree with the above comment; “ill-bread” sounds quite unnatural as well because the correct spelling of the adjective is “ill-bred”. See here for the comparative and the superlative forms.
    – user3395
    May 23 '16 at 18:22
  • Of course it's ill-bred, thanks for pointing out and for the link.
    – Victor B.
    May 23 '16 at 18:41
  • lll traditionally takes worse and worst as its comparative and superlative grades: He's even worse-bred than the others. I have no problem with tighter-fisted, but tightest-fisted is a tongue-twister! May 23 '16 at 19:08
  • StoneyB@ Thanks a lot for the tip, it is really useful. Smiling trying the tongue-twister.
    – Victor B.
    May 23 '16 at 19:25
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First, you asked about other compound adjectives. Allow me to list some:

  • long-lasting
  • far-reaching
  • high-ranked
  • short-term
  • high-level
  • low-price

With regards to the question you pose, whether to use the superlative or more/most construction, @StoneyB is pretty spot-on (pun intended); with respect to writing for comprehension, the more/most construction is a safer bet. However, as long as the proper superlative is being used (such as ill-bred to worse-bred, or tight-fisted to tightest-fisted), use of that form is no less correct.

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  • I'd say that it's on a case-by-case basis, and generally it would be more/most except in cases where the other usage is established. All your examples can be used without more/most, but I'm struggling to think of any others.
    – Euan M
    Sep 10 '17 at 2:39

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