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Denser or More Dense: Using the Comparative Form of Dense

It is easy to misuse the various parts of speech in any language, especially the comparative form of adverbs and adjectives. When it comes to comparing density, which is correct: “denser” or “more dense”?

Since “dense” is a one-syllable adjective, the correct form is “denser,” not more dense, according to the rules for forming comparative adjectives In contrast, we sometimes use the adverb “more” to form the comparative when an adjective has two syllables, and we always use it when it has three or more syllables.

Despite the straightforward rule for the single-syllable word “dense,” you will still see many using the comparative form “more dense,” even in academic papers. Still, we’ll cover the rules for forming the comparative and the superlative and demonstrate why “denser” is correct.

Which Is Correct: More Dense or Denser?

Again, it is correct to use “denser” as “dense” has one syllable. Dictionaries like The Merriam-Webster Dictionary will often list the comparative and superlative forms for one- or two-syllable adjectives when they take the -er suffix.

Such is the case here, as Merriam-Webster lists the comparative form “denser” and the superlative form “densest.”

The adjective “dense,” like most other adjectives, has three forms: the positive, the comparative, and the superlative. Adverbs also have these forms, but we have to modify “dense” with -ly to make it function as an adverb (source).

“Dense” is the positive form of the adjective, which is the simplest form of an adjective that in no way denotes an increase or decrease. In contrast, the comparative and superlative forms “denser” and “densest” indicate a higher degree and the highest degree, respectively.

Adjective (positive form)Comparative Form (-er)Superlative Form (-est)
dense dense + er = denserdense + est = densest
soonsoon + er = soonersoon + est = soonest
bigbig + er = biggerbig + est = biggest
happyhappy + er = happier(change y to i)happy + est = happiest(change y to i)

It’s also important to note that only gradable adjectives have all three forms. Non-gradable adjectives like “eastern” or “electronic” do not have comparative or superlative forms, and we cannot make them weaker or stronger by using “less” or  “very.”

The Meaning of Dense

Before we dive deeper into forming comparative and superlative adjectives and adverbs, let’s establish the various definitions for “dense” in The Merriam-Webster Dictionary (source).

The adjective “dense” describes things or people crowded, compacted, or close together. A good visual is an elevator in an office building at the end of the day. 

The second definition, and one we use often, describes someone that is slow to understand. For instance, trying to teach another the rules of a sport they’ve never watched or played, and they just don’t quite get it.

The third definition is similar to the first, only it relates to chemistry and describes something with a high mass per unit volume.

In the fourth definition, similar to the second, a person must have the ability to fully concentrate in order to follow and comprehend the meaning of what they are reading.

The last definition describes something with a high or somewhat high opacity — for instance, dense fog.

Rules for Forming Comparative Adjectives and Adverbs

If you’re learning English and attempting to memorize a lot of confusing rules, forming comparative adjectives will seem easy! We base the comparative form on the number of syllables the word contains.

Comparative Adjectives

For one-syllable adjectives, you will add -er. If the adjective begins with a consonant followed by a vowel and ends with another consonant, simply double the last consonant to form the word. For instance, “fat” becomes “fatter.” 

  • The cat is fat, but the dog is fatter.

The rules for two-syllable adjectives are the most complex. Generally, you can either add -er to the end or use the word “more” right before the adjective for two-syllable comparative adjectives. For example, “narrow” becomes “narrower” or “more narrow.”

  • Jane went through the narrow opening.
  • John climbed into the narrower opening.
  • Jill took the more narrow path.

Generally, one form becomes more popular than the other, but either option is usually correct, though “more” is often the safest bet. 

For further information and clarification of the comparative form for two-syllable adjectives, read our articles, “Clever or More Clever: Which Is Correct?” and “Quieter or More Quiet: The Comparative Degree of ‘Quiet’”

In the case of adjectives with three or more syllables, you almost always use the adverb “more” in front of the adjective. For example, “important” becomes “more important.” It’s important to note that dictionaries do not always list the comparative and superlative forms for three-syllable adjectives.

Comparative Adverbs

The rules for comparative adverbs are not much different from those for comparative adjectives. For instance, if the word ends with a consonant, you add -er. Thus, for example, “hard” becomes “harder.”

Remember, when you encounter an adverb ending in -y, change the -y to -i and add -er. For instance, “early” becomes “earlier.” If the adverb is one syllable and ends in -e, just add -r. For instance, “late” becomes “later” (source).

However, there are many adverbs we can form by adding -ly to the end of an adjective. For example, the adjective “happy” becomes an adverb by adding -ly, and the new adverb is “happily.” In this case, we use the words “more” or “less” before the adverb in the comparative form.

The adverb form of “dense” is “densely,” which now has two syllables since we added -ly. This means it can take “more” in the comparative or “most” in the superlative. However, we never add -er to adverbs ending in -ly.

  • Bats densely populated the roof of the cave.

Irregular Comparative and Superlative Adverbs and Adjectives

Unfortunately, as with other areas of the English language, you will just have to memorize irregular forms. But, no worries, once you learn the words and use them often, you will be hard-pressed to forget them.

Now, that said, here are some of the irregular adverbs ready for memorization.

Irregular AdverbComparative FormSuperlative Form
far farther (or further)farthest (or furthest)

In addition to irregular adverbs, there are also irregular adjectives that you must memorize.

Irregular AdjectiveComparative FormSuperlative Form
Many moremost

Using the Comparative Form

Scale, Question, Importance, Balance, Choice, Choose
Image by qimono via Pixabay

Now that you’ve seen how to form comparative adjectives and adverbs, let’s examine how they function in sentences. While a comparative adjective compares the differences between two objects that it modifies, a comparative adverb compares two actions (source).

Comparative Adjectives

Adjectives describe or modify a noun or pronoun and give us more information about the noun. In the following examples, the predicate adjective modifies the subject, while the preposition “than” points to the object of the preposition.

  • Jerry is denser than George; he never understands anything.
  • My apartment is bigger than Nicole’s apartment.

You may not always need to include the second comparative item if it is evident by the context of the sentence.

  • My sandwich is meatier than Harry’s.
  • My apartment is bigger than Nicole’s.

These sentences don’t need the what (sandwich and apartment) for someone to understand their meaning.

Comparative Adverbs

Adverbs modify — meaning they limit or restrict the meaning of — verbs. Adverbs also modify adjectives, other adverbs, phrases, or even an entire sentence.

Adverbs answer the common questions of when, where, how, how much, how long, or how often. For example: 

  • She began to run faster.
  • George is a slower runner.
  • Her cough sounds worse than it actually is.

Comparative adverbs compare two actions happening in one sentence. For example:

  • Janet ate her lunch faster than John.
  • Can this car go any faster?

When adverbs end in -ly, you must use the word “more” before the adverb in the comparative form. For instance: 

  • Would you please talk more quietly?
  • Jane could have asked more politely.

Superlative Form: Densest or Most Dense?

Landscape, Forest, Trees, Jungle, Nature, Outdoors
Image by 12019 via Pixabay

“Densest” is the superlative form of the adjective “dense.” This spelling follows the same rules for forming the comparative form “denser”; likewise, using “most dense” would be incorrect. Remember that as a monosyllabic word, you don’t use the word “most.”

To form superlative adjectives from one-syllable words, simply add -est to the end of the word. For example, “fast” becomes “fastest.” If the adverb already ends in -e, then just add -st.

  • The Enchanted Forest is the densest forest in the county. (correct)
  • The Enchanted Forest is the most dense forest in the county. (incorrect)
  • Our flower garden is the densest in the neighborhood. (correct)
  • Our flower garden is the most dense in the neighborhood. (incorrect)
  • This fog is the densest I’ve seen in a long time. (correct)
  • This fog is the most dense I’ve seen in a long time. (incorrect)

Each example uses “densest” to refer to the highest degree of thickness or compactness of a certain group. While the comparative measures degree between two persons or things, the superlative compares the highest degree of one person or thing in a group of three or more.

If you recall, though, we can also use “dense” to refer to someone who is slow to catch on. So the following example uses the superlative form “densest” to set someone apart as the densest or most dull-witted of the group.

  • John is the densest in the class. (correct)
  • John is the most dense in the class. (incorrect)

Using the Superlative Form

Superlative means to be better than all others — supreme. Whether an adjective or an adverb, the superlative denotes the maximum degree of comparison, in other words, the very best or very worst. This contrasts with the comparative degree, which is the mean — not the lowest degree and not the highest (source).

Superlative Adjectives

We use superlative adjectives to describe an object as either at its lowest or highest limits — for instance, the tallest or the smallest.

  • Thomas is tall, Harry is taller, but John is the tallest.
  • Kieran’s cooking is the best in our family.

The superlative adjective best compares Kieran’s cooking to others in his family. “Best” shows the highest measure of difference. But, of course, the superlative adjective or adverb can also be negative, such as in the following sentences.

  • Kieran’s cooking is the worst in our family.
  • John is the most unhappy cook I’ve ever met.

We are still comparing Kieran’s cooking with the rest of the cooks in the family, but instead of being the best, he is now the worst. The same applies to the other sentence, where John is the most unhappy cook among the group of cooks that the subject has met. 

Superlative Adverbs

Similarly, we use superlative adverbs to describe the action occurring between three or more people or objects. Unlike superlative adjectives, superlative adverbs answer the following questions for actions: how, when, how often, or to what point. When using superlative adverbs ending in -ly, you always use “most.”

  • John and Mary are the most happily married couple in the room.

In this case, the superlative adverb “most happily” modifies the adjective “married,” which describes the noun “couple.”

You’ll often find superlative adverbs after the verb in a sentence, and the article “the” most often precedes them.

  • Mustangs may move fast, but Lamborghini’s move the fastest.
  • I run fast, but my brother runs the fastest.

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When you’re modifying a noun or pronoun, you’re using an adjective. When you’re modifying a verb, adjective, another adverb, or a preposition, you’re using an adverb.

Final Thoughts

Though you might see someone use “more dense” on occasion, particularly in chemistry, the proper comparative form is “denser.” Single-syllable adjectives like “dense” are the easiest to form in the comparative or superlative by adding -er or -est.

The comparative indicates an increase in the quality or quantity of someone or something compared to another person or thing. The superlative degree indicates the highest degree of one person or thing in comparison to a group.