Busier or More Busy: Correctly Using the Comparative Form of Busy

Most of us consider our lives pretty active, though is it correct to use “busier” or “more busy” when comparing ourselves to others? Busy is a relative term because some people may have more to do each day than others around them.

Busier is the correct comparative adjective to use when expressing a degree of difference between two things. We generally add -er to short, single-syllable words to create the comparative form, and because busy is a two-syllable word ending in a -y, we replace it with -ier.

This article will explore comparative forms in general and the rules that govern them in English. We’ll also examine the word “busy” and its comparative form and explain why “busier” is a better choice than “more busy.”

Degrees of Comparison

We use degrees of comparison to compare one thing with another. In English, there are three degrees of comparison:

  • Positive form
  • Comparative form
  • Superlative form

When we use an adjective or adverb to describe just one thing, then we use the positive form. When we compare two things, we use the comparative form, and when comparing three or more things or describing an action performed to its highest degree, we use the superlative form.

Below is a table with some examples of these three forms:

PositiveComparativeSuperlative
BusyBusierBusiest
SmallSmallerSmallest
StrongStrongerStrongest
PrettyPrettierPrettiest
TallTallerTallest

Consider the following examples that show how we use the degrees of comparison in sentences.

I am busy. (Positive Form)
Jack is busier than Emma. (Comparative Form)
Jack is the busiest he has ever been. (Superlative Form)
The ball is small. (Positive Form)
Jack’s ball is smaller than Emma’s. (Comparative Form)
That is the smallest ball I have ever seen (Superlative Form)
Jane is pretty. (Positive Form)
Sarah is prettier than Jane. (Comparative Form)
Katie is the prettiest of the three girls. (Superlative Form)

Spelling Rules

If the word has double vowels or ends in double consonants, then we simply add -er and -est.

Examples: weak – weaker – weakest; rich – richer – richest; pink – pinker – pinkest

If the word is a single-syllable and has a short vowel, then we double the last letter and add -er in the comparative form and -est in the superlative form. 

Examples: hot – hotter – hottest; big – bigger – biggest; fit – fitter – fittest

If the word ends in an “e,” then we add -r and -st.

Examples: ripe – riper – ripest; wise – wiser – wisest; close – closer – closest

If the word ends in a “y,” then we replace the “y” with -ier and -iest.

Examples: busy – busier – busiest; lacy – lacier – laciest; nutty – nuttier – nuttiest

If the word is more than two syllables long and doesn’t end in “y,” then we use “more” and “most.” We also use these if the word ends in -ous, -ive, or -ful

Examples: colorful – more colorful – most colorful; difficult – more difficult – most difficult; talented – more talented – most talented

Notable Exceptions

As with all English grammar and spelling rules, there are some notable exceptions. The most common of these appear in the table below.

PositiveComparativeSuperlative
Good
She is good at math.
Better
Jane is better at math than Jeff.
Best
Anne is the best in the class at math.
Bad
I am a bad cook.
Worse
Jane is a worse cook than Jeff.
Worst
Anne is the worst cook in her family.
Little
She wants a little ice cream.
Less
Jane wants less ice cream than Jeff does. 
Least
Anne ate the least ice cream of all the children. 
Many
She has many friends.
More
Jane has more friends than Jeff.
Most
Anne has the most friends of all the children.
Yellow and Blue Duck Toy
Image by Joice Rivas via Pixels

What Is the Comparative Form of Busy?

We use the comparative form either to compare things or to show change. Comparative adjectives make comparisons between two nouns, and comparative adverbs describe relative actions or verbs (source).

“Busy” is an adjective, and the comparative form of busy is busier. 

When we use it as a comparative adjective, “busier” compares the relation between two nouns — people, places, or things — as in the following examples:

Jack is the busier of the two managers.
Maple Mall is busier than Acorn Mall. 
Traffic is busier on North St. than Jacob St.

Uses of Comparative Adjectives

When using comparative adjectives to make a direct comparison between two things, we use the word than to express this:

Jane is busier than Mark.
Ellen is taller than Ross.
Jack is kinder than Jennifer.

When describing change, we can repeat the comparative together with “and”:

That intersection has become busier and busier.
She never stopped eating and just grew bigger and bigger.
He became quieter and quieter as the bullying continued.

When expressing how one thing depends on another, we can use “the” together with comparative adjectives:

The more he gives me to do, the busier I become.
The faster you eat, the more likely you will be to get hiccups.
The more irritating he is, the quicker I react. 

What Is the Meaning of Busier?

The root word of “busier” is the adjective “busy,” which we can define as follows (source): 

  • Being occupied with a task 
  • Being currently in use
  • Being full of activity, bustling
  • Having a lot of intricate detail 

Consider the following sentences that illustrate these nuances in meaning:

She was busy doing her homework when he arrived — occupied with a task. 
The changing stall was busy when I wanted to use it — currently in use.
That is a very busy part of the park — bustling, full of activity.
The fabric design was too busy for my simple tastes — intricate detail.  

Origins

The word “busy” originated from Old English, where the Anglo-Saxons spelled it bisig and defined it as “anxious” or “careful” (source). We can link its origins to the Old Dutch word bezich and the Low German word besig, which came to mean “in constant action” and is consistent with today’s definition.

In the 15th century, the spelling shifted to the current form, and the word became more about being meddlesome than anxious. This definition is still retained in the term “busybody” which refers to a meddling, prying person.

The term “busier” first entered the records in the late 1700s. It steadily gained popularity over the next century, and its recorded usage since then has been fairly consistent (source).

Busier vs. More Busy

As discussed above, “busier” is the correct comparative form of “busy.” Mostly, we only use “more” for comparative adjectives when words are more than two syllables long and don’t end in “y.” There are always exceptions to this rule, and, as with all English exceptions, you’ll simply have to learn these.

Is “More Busy” Correct?

Almost always, the correct term is “busier.” However, there are also some specific examples where one might use “more busy” rather than “busier.” Consider the following examples, where “more busy” is the right choice rather than “busier.”

I have never been more busy in my life.
I continued to paint after my illness, but I was more busy than productive.
He is as busy as his brother — not less busy, and not more busy, but about the same.

In the first example, you could use “busier,” but using “more busy” places stress on the “more” element of the meaning and is better served by using “more busy.”

The second sentence needs to use “more” because that is the comparative form of “productive,” and the sentence would sound awkward if it read “…busier more than more productive.”

The final sentence qualifies the meaning of “as busy” and, again, although we could use “busier” in its place, the sentence makes its point best with “more busy.”

Other words that can be confusing when choosing whether to use “more” in the comparative form include “healthy” and “clear.” Click on the links to read more about these.

Is Busier the Correct Word?

The term “busier” is the correct word as it appropriately compares two objects, people, or places to one another. For example, we can contrast two people to see who has the most to do in a week. We can compare two patterns to see which has the more elaborate design, or we could evaluate two restaurants and discover which receives more trade.

Alternatives to Busier

Because these contexts all have slightly different meanings, we can use several alternatives in place of “busier.” Consider the following sentences and the alternatives offered.

You should rather ask Simon for help because Jeff is busier than him. 
You should rather ask Simon for help because Jeff is more occupied than him. 

Here, “busier” refers to being engaged in a task. In this context, we could also substitute it with “more involved” or “harder at work.”

That cubicle is busier than this one.
That cubicle is more used than this one.

Here, “busier” refers to being in use. In this context, we could also substitute it with “more popular.” 

That intersection is always busier than this one.
That intersection is always more frantic than this one. 

Here “busier” refers to being full of activity. In this context, we could also substitute it with “more bustling,” “more congested,” or “more hectic.”

The pattern on this paisley scarf is much busier than that one. 
The pattern on this paisley scarf is much more intricate than that one. 

Here “busier” means having lots of intricate detail. In this context, we could also substitute it with “more ornate” or “more embellished.”

Image by Kevin Phillips via Pixabay

Is More Busier Correct?

More busier is never correct. One person could be busier than someone else, but it would be grammatically incorrect to say you are “more busier” than someone. The term “busier” is already modified by the suffix -er and does not require the adverb “more.”

Grammarians refer to this grammatical error as a double comparative, which happens any time that someone uses a comparative ending together with “more” or “less” (source). 

If you wanted to say you were more than just busier, then you are probably the busiest. “Busiest” is the superlative form of the adjective “busy.” 

Understanding Superlatives

A superlative adjective describes something to its highest or lowest degree when comparing three or more things (source). This is evidenced in the following sentences, all of which use the superlative form of the adjective. 

This is the busiest mall I have ever seen. 
Jack is the tallest man in the group.
Jane was the most accomplished musician in the orchestra.

When we are talking about busyness or the degree of being busy, then busiest is the superlative form. This article was written for strategiesforparents.com. 

A superlative form allows us to compare a person or thing with an entire group of similar things. In the examples above, the groups would be busy malls, tall men, and accomplished musicians. A comparative simply allows comparison with another person or thing (source).

Final Thoughts

We frequently use the word “busy” in the English language with a range of meanings. Understanding the nuances of these definitions helps to enrich our command of the language. 

Likewise, making use of comparative and superlative forms allows us to compare various qualities in the people and things we describe, and it’s important to know when it’s correct to use “more” and “most” and when the word just gets the “er” or “est” suffixes. 

In the case of “busy,” we now know that the correct comparative form is “busier.” Hopefully, your study of the English language will ensure that you are busier than your fellow students and perhaps even the busiest student around!

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