Clearer or More Clear: Understanding the Proper Usage of Degrees of Comparison

Both the word “clearer” and the phrase “more clear” are examples of the comparative form. The comparative form is one of three degrees of comparison in English.

The correct choice is typically “clearer,” not “more clear” when using degrees of comparison. When forming the comparative, we usually add the suffix -er to words of one syllable like “clear.” However, because “clearer” can be an awkward word to pronounce, some people prefer to use “more clear.”

The rules that govern degrees of comparison are a lot simpler than many rules of English grammar. However, as with all grammatical rules in English, there are many exceptions. Continue reading to learn more about degrees of comparison and how to use them correctly in your writing.

A Brief Guide to Degrees of Comparison

Degrees of comparison refers to the formulation of the same adjective in different ways to indicate a comparison between two or more ideas.

There are three degrees of comparison: the positive, the comparative, and the superlative (source).

The Positive Degree

The positive degree refers to the form of the adjective that you are probably most familiar with. It doesn’t compare objects but simply describes an object or person. Consider these examples:

  1. Mark is tall.

In this sentence, the adjective tall describes Mark. There is no comparison of Mark’s height to that of any other person.

  1. The classroom is messy.

In this sentence, the adjective messy describes the classroom. There is no comparison of this room to any other.

The Comparative Degree

The comparative degree compares two objects or people (source).

Usually, you will write in the comparative form by adding the suffix -er to the end of the positive form of the adjective — although, as we will see, it is not always that simple! Consider these examples of the comparative degree:

  1. Mark is taller than Emma.

In this sentence, the comparative adjective taller does not describe Mark’s height in isolation but, instead, describes his height compared to Emma’s height.

  1. The classroom is messier than my office.

In this sentence, the comparative adjective messier describes the state of the classroom in comparison to that of my office. Note that we first replace the “y” at the end of the word “messy” with an “i” before adding the suffix -est.

The Superlative Degree

The superlative degree compares three or more objects or people. Usually, you will form the superlative by adding the suffix -est to the end of the positive form of the adjective. Consider these examples:

  1. Mark is the tallest boy on the basketball team.

In this sentence, the superlative adjective “tallest” compares Mark to the other boys on the basketball team, which we can assume is a group of several people.

  1. My classroom is the messiest one in the school.

In this sentence, the superlative adjective messiest compares my classroom to the rest of the classrooms in the school. Note that, just as with the comparative form, we replace the –y at the end of the word “messy” with an –i before we add the suffix.

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Rules for Forming Degrees of Comparison

As we know from the examples above, the first and simplest rule for forming the comparative is to add the suffix -er to the positive form of the adjective.

And the simplest rule for forming the superlative is to add the suffix -est to the positive form of the adjective.

These rules almost always apply to adjectives that have one or two syllables in the positive form. Consider these examples:

PositiveComparativeSuperlative
smallsmallersmallest
bigbiggerbiggest
strangestrangerstrangest
hungryhungrierhungriest
happyhappierhappiest
narrownarrowernarrowest

As we’ve already seen, the –y on the end of the word “hungry” changes to –i before adding the suffix. 

You will be able to see from the examples above that a few other basic rules apply.

When the positive adjective already ends in –e, you will simply add –r or –st. When the positive adjective is a single syllable ending in a hard consonant like -g, you will double the final consonant before you add the suffix -er or -est.

Adjective with Three Syllables or More

The second rule when forming degrees of comparison is that adjectives of three syllables or more do not receive a suffix at all.

Instead, you will add the word “more” before the adjective to form the comparative and the word “most” to form the superlative. Consider these examples:

PositiveComparativeSuperlative
beautifulMore beautifulMost beautiful
deliciousMore deliciousMost delicious
horribleMore horribleMost horrible
positiveMore positiveMost positive

Exceptions

The third basic rule is one you will know from all English grammar lessons: there are always exceptions. In some cases, a two-syllable word may sound awkward when you add the suffix. Consider this example:

Helen is cleverer than Amanda.

The word “cleverer” is technically a correct form of the comparative, but it is a mouthful to pronounce, so you might prefer to use “more clever” instead:

Helen is more clever than Amanda.

To learn more about this particular degree of comparison, read our article on cleverer or more clever.

Adding “More” or “Most”

There are also many cases where most consider it incorrect to convert the two-syllable positive adjective into the comparative or the superlative by adding -er or -est. Instead, you will need to use the addition of “more” or “most.”

For example:

PositiveComparativeSuperlative
activeMore active(not “activer”)Most active (not “activest”)
cunningMore cunning(not “cunninger”)Most cunning(not “cunningest”)
properMore proper (not “properer”)Most proper(not “properest”)
faithfulMore faithful(not “faithfuller”)Most faithful(not “faithfullest”)
famousMore famous(not “famouser”)Most famous(not “famousest”)
completeMore complete(not “completer”)Most complete(not “completest”)

This rule applies broadly to adjectives that end in -ous, -ive, or -ful (source). It also applies when the positive adjective has two syllables, and the emphasis falls on the second syllable (source).

But, in other cases, adding a suffix forms a word that is awkward or difficult to pronounce. Read the incorrect versions above out loud, and you will see why! Experiment to work out what sounds right and wrong to you.

Irregular Degrees of Comparison

There are some adjectives that wander even further from the basic rules we have set out. These are certain irregular degrees of comparison in which the comparative and superlative forms are completely different words from the positive adjective (source).

Here are some examples:

PositiveComparativeSuperlative
goodBetter(not “gooder”)Best(not “goodest”)
badWorse(not “badder”)Worst(not “baddest”)
manyMore(not “manier”)Most(not “maniest”)

Unfortunately, you will simply have to learn these irregular forms and others by heart.

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So, Is There a Word “Clearer”?

From what we have discussed so far, you should be able to conclude that the word “clearer” is a perfectly correct comparative form of the positive adjective “clear.”

This is because the positive adjective “clear” has only one syllable, so it is correct to add the suffix -er to form the comparative “clearer.” Let’s look at an example using these words in a sentence:

  1. My physics teacher’s explanation of gravity is clear.

In this example, the word clear is the positive form of the adjective. We are not comparing my teacher’s explanations to anything else.

  1. Mrs. Naidoo’s explanation of gravity is clearer than Mr. Brown’s explanation.

In this example, the word clearer is the comparative form of the adjective. We are comparing two things: Mrs. Naidoo’s explanation and Mr. Brown’s explanation.

However, some people find the word clearer awkward to pronounce, and, in many cases, some consider it correct to use “more clear” instead:

  1. Mrs. Naidoo’s explanation of gravity is more clear than Mr. Brown’s explanation.

While this form does not follow the rules we have set out above, it is not incorrect. There is no difference in meaning between example 2 and example 3. Choosing between the two is a matter of style rather than grammatical correctness. 

However, it is very important to note that you cannot use both the suffix -er and the word “more” to create the comparative form of the adjective. Consider this example:

  1. Mrs. Naidoo’s explanation of gravity is more clearer than Mr. Brown’s explanation.

The suffix -er indicates the comparative in the word “clearer,” which makes the addition of the word “more” repetitive. This grammatical error is known as a double comparative (source).

To learn more about the double comparative error, read our article on healthier or more healthier.

Applying Degrees of Comparison to Adverbs

You can also apply degrees of comparison to adverbs, which are words that describe the verb in a sentence. 

Broadly speaking, the same rules apply when you form degrees of comparison for an adjective: you will add the suffix -er to form the comparative and the suffix -est to form the superlative (source). Consider these examples:

Positive adverbComparativeSuperlative
fastfasterfastest
latelaterlatest
soonsoonersoonest

However, remember that for many adjectives, you will add the suffix -ly to the word. For example:

AdjectiveAdverb
quickquickly
calmcalmly
angryangrily
clearclearly

In this case, you do not add a suffix. Instead, we form the comparative by adding the word “more” before the adverb, and we form the superlative by adding the word “most” before the adverb (source):

AdverbComparativeSuperlative
quicklyMore quicklyMost quickly
calmlyMore calmlyMost calmly
angrilyMore angrilyMost angrily
clearlyMore clearlyMost clearly

Consider these sentences to understand how we use these adverb degrees of comparison:

  1. Dominic ran more quickly than his sister and reached home before her.

In this example, the comparative adverb more quickly compares two things: the speed at which Dominic ran and the speed at which his sister ran.

  1. When we had to retrench our staff, Nadia took the news most calmly out of everyone.

In this example, the superlative adverb most calmly compares more than two things: how Nadia took the news and how the rest of the staff took the news.

  1. Mom spoke more angrily to me than to my brother Adam when she came home and found the cookie jar empty.

In this example, the comparative adverb more angrily compares two things: how Mom spoke to me and how Mom spoke to Adam.

Irregular Adverbial Degrees of Comparison

Just as some adjectives form degrees of comparison that are completely irregular, so do some adverbs. Here are some examples:

AdverbComparativeSuperlative
wellbetterbest
badlyworseworst

So, Can You Say “More Clearly”?

From our discussion above, you should now be able to see that the phrase “more clearly” is the correct way to formulate the superlative of the adjective “clearly.” Consider these examples:

  1. My new boss laid out my duties clearly.

The positive adverb clearly describes the manner in which my boss laid out my duties.

  1. My new boss explains things more clearly than my old boss did.

The comparative adverb more clearly compares two things: the way in which my new boss explains things and the way in which my old boss used to explain things.

  1. Out of all the employers I have worked for, my new boss explains things the most clearly.

The superlative adverb most clearly compares more than two things: the way in which my new boss explains things and the ways in which all previous bosses have explained things.

Final Thoughts

Forming degrees of comparison is quite simple, although as with most rules of English grammar, there are many complications and exceptions that may confuse you. But grasping these basic rules is the first step to using degrees of comparison correctly.

Investing in a good dictionary and a style guide will also help you to understand the meaning and grammar of the words you are using and the most effective ways to express yourself.

Consider purchasing The Oxford New Essential Dictionary and Dreyer’s English from Amazon.

Laura Byrne

Laura is a lifelong English literature nerd. Most of the time, she works as a television journalist with a focus on science, medical and environmental stories. She loves cycling, running (usually accompanied by her large fluffy dog), and cooking up a storm.

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