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Tuesday, 30 January 2007

Ask About English! Q4: 'the commonest'

Hello,

I have noticed the superlative "the commonest" on BBC language pages - but I was taught that words with two or more syllables, except those ending with -y, are compared by more and most-?

Thanks for explanation
Karla


Hi Karla,

I was actually thinking about this last week when I was teaching. Unfortunately the deeper you look into a language the less clear some rules become.

1) two-syllable adjectives ending in -y take -er/-est

2) Adjectives with 3 syllables or more take more/most

3) Other Words with 2 syllables vary.

a) common two-syllable adjectives ending in an unstressed vowel normally take the -er/-est patterns:
simple/simplest
clever/cleverest

b) others, particularly adjectives formed with -ing and -ed and those ending in -ious and -ful form their comparatives and superlatives with more and most:

boring, worried, anxious, careful

c) with some two-syllable adjectives, er/est and more/most are both possible:

the commonest /most common
the most pleasant /pleasantest

As you can see the rules are very complicated and over time the spoken language is changing the rules.

I personally can never decide whether it is the most stupid or the stupidest.

I hope this has helped

Thanks for you question

Matt

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