English grammar is riddled with rules, and some of the most confusing are those regarding the degrees of comparison for adjectives. For examples, take the two-syllable word “quiet.” Is it “more quiet” or “quieter”?
The words “quieter” and “more quiet” are both grammatically correct examples of the comparative form, although “quieter” is far more common, particularly in American English. Since “quiet” is a two-syllable adjective, the rules for forming the comparative allow for either adding the suffix -er at the end or “more” before it.
While this might sound strange to American ears, there’s nothing technically wrong with “more quiet.” Read on to find out more about the rules that govern degrees of comparison, the exceptions to these rules, and how to use them when speaking and writing in English.
What Is the Comparative Form of Quiet?
To better understand why the comparative forms “quieter” and “more quiet” are both grammatically correct, let’s take a look at the rules for degrees of comparison in English.
One way of describing an item, person, or thing is to compare it to someone or something else using adjectives.
When comparing objects with each other, also known as an inflection of adjectives, we can use three different forms of the same adjective to indicate a comparison between two or more ideas. Grammarians refer to these as degrees of comparison.
Most adjectives have three forms to show degrees of comparison — the positive, the comparative, and the superlative (source).
We use the positive to describe one item, group, or person and the comparative to describe two items, groups, or people. In contrast, we use the superlative to describe the greatest of three or more items, groups, or people.
Here is an example of the three degrees of comparison for the word “quiet.”
|Adjective / Positive||Comparative||Superlative|
|Quiet||Quieter/More quiet (less common)||The quietest/The most quiet (less common)|
Adjectives and the Comparative and Superlative Degrees
There are several rules for forming comparative and superlative degrees for adjectives, based primarily on the number of syllables in each word. Adjectives with one and often two syllables will take endings or suffixes such as -er and -est to form comparative and superlative degrees.
However, “more” and “most” can instead precede most two-syllable adjectives to form comparative and superlative degrees. Just remember that you must pick one or the other; that is, you will either add the suffix at the end or “more” or “most” at the beginning, but never both together.
Forming the double comparative is a common mistake that English language learners make. Consider the following examples.
|Adjective / Positive||Correct Comparative||Incorrect Comparative|
|John is quiet.||John is quieter than Tom. |
John is more quiet than Tom.
|John is more quieter than Tom.|
As with most rules in grammar, there are exceptions, and when it comes to forming comparative and superlative degrees of adjectives, there are quite a few. To learn more about the rules of the degrees of comparison, read our article “Clearer or More Clear: Understanding the Proper Usage of Degrees of Comparison.”
Why Is Quieter More Common?
As the word “quiet” is a two-syllable adjective, the grammatical rule-of-thumb would allow for the comparative forms “quieter” or “more quiet.” Because there is so much room for confusion with two-syllable words, most sources encourage us to use “more” if we are uncertain of which form to use for them (source).
They do this mainly to make forming the comparative as simple as possible for English language learners, as the rules for forming the comparative have numerous exceptions in practice. Still, some forms using the suffix -er gain wider acceptance over time.
The Rules for Two- and Three-Syllable Words
The British Council notes that most two-syllable words and all words with three-syllables or more have “more” in front for the comparative (source). As a general rule, most two-syllable adjectives, apart from those ending in -y, form comparatives and superlatives with “more” and “most” (source).
However, even the three-syllable rule has exceptions with words beginning with “un” like “unhappy” which becomes “unhappier” in the comparative.
For two-syllable words, there is often one version that gains wider acceptance over the other. This is the case with “quieter” as English dictionaries like Merriam-Webster, Collins Dictionary, and Lexico list it as the comparative form of “quiet” (source).
There are a few reasons why “quiet” can accept -er, but there’s nothing that says it must. For instance, the Cambridge Dictionary notes that some two-syllable adjectives, especially those that end in an unstressed vowel sound like “quiet,” can accept -er (source).
Also, according to Merriam-Webster, two-syllable adjectives ending with an “r” or a “t” usually will allow modification with -er (source).
Why One Might Sound Better than the Other
“Quieter” also sounds more accurate to the American ear, possibly having something to do with American English’s basis in rhotic speech, where we generally pronounce the “r” in words more often than in non-rhotic dialects, like British English.
In the 16th and 17th centuries, English even added -er to three-syllable words like “honorable” to form the outdated “honorabler.” This is about the same time that American and British English began to diverge on either side of the Atlantic.
American English also tends to favor using fewer words and letters, so there is a natural tendency to favor the shorter “quieter” and similar comparative forms when there is such an option.
There are also cases where we might use “more” with one- or two-syllable words that would normally take the suffix -er. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, many do this for special emphasis or to modify the entire predicate instead of just the single adjective or adverb, especially when it’s followed by “than.”
A predicate is a sentence element or clause that contains a verb and makes a statement about the subject.
Attributive vs. Predicate Adjective Position
Most adjectives can go in two main places in a sentence: in the attributive position or the predicative position. When the adjective goes before the noun, it is attributive. When the adjective goes after the noun, it is predicative (source).
Attributive position: The quiet girl.
Predicative position: She is quiet.
Note how the predicative position requires a verb before the adjective. Each of the following sentences uses “quieter” or “more quiet” in the predicative position.
They were more quiet than silent during the movie.
We were quieter than usual as we watched the movie.
We were more quiet than usual as we watched the movie.
Sam’s voice grew quieter as she drew near.
Sam’s voice grew more quiet as she drew near.
Using the Degrees of Comparison for Quiet
Now that we understand what the degrees of comparison for “quiet” are, let’s review several examples of each degree in sentences.
The Positive Degree: Quiet
The positive degree offers no comparison — it simply describes some aspect of an object or person. It is the most familiar form of the adjective.
Mia is quiet.
In this sentence, the adjective “quiet” describes something about Mia, either in that moment or as part of her nature. It simply explains that she is quiet and does not compare her quietness to any other person or thing.
The Definition of Quiet
There are several different meanings for the positive form of the adjective “quiet” (source).
- With little or no sound; free of disturbing noise.
I can’t hear the television; it is too quiet.
- Having little motion or activity; calm.
The lake was quiet.
A quiet night at home.
All quiet on the Western front.
- Not busy, of low quantity.
The traffic was quiet for a weekend.
Business was quiet for the season.
- Not talking much or not talking loudly; reserved.
He’s usually a very quiet man but is very chatty after you get to know him.
- Not showy; undemonstrative.
a quiet movement
a quiet dress
- Requiring little or no interaction (particularly for software).
a quiet upgrade
Why Quiet Is Gradable
Some new to the language might make the mistake of thinking that “quiet” is non-gradable, but it is. This misconception comes from viewing “quiet” as absolutely quiet or silent. “Quiet” can mean little or no sound, while silent means no noise.
Non-gradable adjectives or adverbs are those that cannot take the comparative or superlative form. Non-gradable adjectives often consist of words that are extremes or absolutes, like “correct,” “furious,” or “silent.”
“Quiet” includes low levels of sounds, and something can vary in its degree of “quietness.”
The Comparative Degree: Quieter or More Quiet
We use the comparative degree to describe two items, groups, or people in relation to one another. Again, we form the comparative degree by adding -er to the end of the word or “more” in front of it. We also typically add the word “than” for comparison, as in the example below:
Mia is quieter than her sister.
In this sentence, we compare two people, Mia and her sister, in terms of their quietness to show that her sister is not as quiet as she is. It may also imply that her sister is much louder.
However, according to the grammar rules for degrees of comparison, we can also add the word “more” as a form of comparison; for example:
Mia is more quiet than her sister.
This sentence also compares two people — Mia and her sister and their different levels of quietness. Some might also consider this more emphatic than if we had used “quieter.”
Again, while both terms follow the rules for two-syllable words, you’ll find that most people prefer the addition of the suffix -er.
The Superlative Degree: Quietest or Most Quiet
We use the superlative degree to compare three or more people or objects from least to greatest. We form the superlative degree of an adjective by adding the suffix -est to the end of the positive degree or the word “most” before it.
This degree of comparison denotes that the quality of the object or person exists in the highest degree.
Most common: Mia is the quietest of all three of her sisters.
Less common: Mia is the most quiet of all three of her sisters.
In this sentence, we are comparing three people — Mia and her three sisters — in terms of their quietness. Here, Mia is the quietest or most quiet of all three individuals.
The Comparative and Superlative of the Adverb Quietly
In addition to adjectives, we can use the comparative form for adverbs. Unlike an adjective, which describes a noun, an adverb describes a verb to tell us something about the way someone did something.
The adverb of “quiet” is “quietly.” Adverbs like “quietly” that end in -ly always take either “more” to form the comparative or “most” to form the superlative.
|Quietly||More quietly||Most quietly|
The Noun Suffix
While -er often functions as an adjective or adverb suffix, it also functions as a noun suffix, usually to refer to a person who performs a specific action. For example, we might call someone or something that cuts a “cutter.” This article was written for strategiesforparents.com
While there is no such noun in current usage, Webster’s 1828 Dictionary listed the noun “quieter” as someone or something that quiets (source).
In review, the words “quieter” and “more quiet” are both acceptable examples of the comparative form. While both terms are grammatically correct, “quieter” is more common, particularly in American English.
The comparative form is one of the many aspects of the English language that any new learner will have to grapple with to master the language. The three degrees of comparison — namely, the positive, the comparative, and the superlative — offer a clear and easy way to describe and compare adjectives.
Hopefully, you have a better understanding of the comparative uses of the adjective “quiet” and how and when to use “quieter” or “more quiet” in a sentence.