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Incomplete list of adjectives for comparative rules

I’m looking at the “Short comparatives” rule on the community rules list. ID: SHORT_COMPARATIVES

It looks like this rule can’t capture an error like “He is more old.” The XML file gives an incomplete list of adjectives. Similarly, the “No ‘more’ or ‘most’ before comparatives” rule (ID: MOST_COMPARATIVE) can’t capture an error like “He is more silly”.

Can these two rule be corrected. Perhaps they can both check over a separate file of mono/bisyllabic adjectives?

Hi @hovdos, thank you for your input!

I’ve checked the following sentences:

- He is more old than me.
- He is more silly than me.
- This is the most silly game.
- He is the most old person in this room.

The first two sentences are detected by SHORT_COMPARATIVES (old is in the list of adjectives!), the second pair of sentences is covered by SHORT_SUPERLATIVES.

But: You are right in saying that the list is incomplete. The adjective ‘happy’ is not in there, for example. I’ve added it now, so that the following mistakes will be found from tomorrow on:

- You are more happy than I.
- You are the most happy person I know.

I would say that, having those two rules, making sure the ENTITY short_adjectives is complete is sufficient to cover the problems you addressed here. Do you agree?

Do you have any suggestions for more mono- or bisyllabic adjectives that form their comparative and superlative forms synthetically (i.e. using -er and -est)?

But the rule says nothing when the sentence is “He is more old and more wise” (without “than”). It seems a false negative. We could write another rule without the “than”, but it will need more exceptions.

Good point, @jaumeortola.

That will be quite delicate a rule to write:

The more rich people get, the more detached from reality they become. (–> richer)

The more rich people move to this neighbourhood, the more competitive the real estate market will become. (correct)

We can start replacing “than” by a punctuation mark or a conjugation.

More rich people will move to our little town every year.

I don’t want to see more rich people on TV.

For improving the rule, you should incorporate the fact that

  1. monosyllables all take -er/-est
  2. For bisyllables, the the word has to end in -y (happy-er, but more inept)
  3. The suffix -ly can take either option: friendly-er, and more friendly

For both MOST_COMPARATIVE and SHORT_COMPARATIVES, I still don’t get an error for a sentence like “She is more old.”

As for completeness, does LanguageTool maintain a shared dictionary of words and their tagging?

Hi @hovdos,

Thank you for your input! The main challenge in writing a rule for this is the fact that “more old” can be correct as well. To wit, when it’s not a comparative:

In the future, there will be more old people than today. (not: older)
Is she old and wise? – She is more old than wise. (not: older)

The challenges concerning comparative and superlative morphology are minor. There are a few pitfalls, though:

This does not hold true for clever, quiet, narrow, simple who all have an -er comparative.

This does not hold true for all bisyllables ending in -ly, e.g. surly > surlier (not more surly).

That said, you are absolutely right that the comparative and superlative rules could be much bolder than they are.

An adjective (in its positive form) that forms the comparative synthetically (-er) and not analytically cannot be preceded by “more” unless

  • more is at the beginning of the sentence,
  • the adjective is followed (by another adjective and then) a noun unless before more, you have an article,
  • the adjective is followed by than and another adjective (positive form), or
  • the adjective is followed by than and a personal pronoun (nominative) and a finite form of “to be”.

Examples:

More old people are moving to this quiet village every year.
She is an older lady. (not: more old)
There are more rich old people here than in any other state.
He is more old than wise.
He is more old than he is wise.

An improved comparative rule is in the works.

As for the superlative, the situation is somewhat different:

An adjective (in its positive form) that forms the superlative synthetically (-est) and not analytically can only be preceded by “most” when:

  • it is followed by a noun unless it is preceded by the unless before that, there is a transitive verb.

Examples:

She is the oldest.
I suppose that most old people have pensions.
She is the oldest sister.
He is the person who knows the most old people.

An improved superlative rule is in the works.

Old: ah you’re right!

The main challenge in writing a rule for this is the fact that “more old” can be correct as well. To wit, when it’s not a comparative:

Bisyllables: ah you’re right! I was wrong because I took this rule from some other grammar site

This does not hold true for clever , quiet , narrow , simple who all have an -er comparative.

I think the ultimate generalization is based on stress. The bisyllabic adjectives which take the -er generally take initial stress, while the one’s who don’t have final stress. I remember this factoid from a phonology class. Over the orthography, an approximation for stress is whether the final syllable has one coda (post-vowel consonant) or a complex coda (2 or more post-vowel consonants). So for the orthography for bisyllabic words, if the final syllable has the shape VC or V, then use -er; but if the bisyllabic word ends in VCC then no -er

-ly: Yup you’re right again. My mistake for referencing another (apparently not well-done) resource without being critical about it

This does not hold true for all bisyllables ending in -ly , e.g. surly > surlier (not more surly ).

In this case, it’s probably got to do with the fact that for ‘friendly’, the -ly suffix is on a word that is a free-standing word ‘friend’, while ‘surly’ doesn’t have a base ‘*sur’

And you’re right about all those unexpected situations with ‘more old’. This paper might be useful. The author goes through a sequence of examples where -er is unexpectedly used or not used. Luckily, all her example data is in a blue font. There are some semantic restrictions on which monosyllables can’t take -er (which one would ultimately have to list).

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