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English Grammar Lesson: Comparatives and Superlatives June 17th, 2016

This year, the official date of the start of summer is June 20. But in Boston, the weather is so mercurial that we can never really quite tell what season we’re in at any given time! Within the last two weeks, the weather is dipped as low as 50 degrees Fahrenheit and soared as high as 90 degrees. (For a quick reference for how to change Fahrenheit to Celsius, click on this link: http://fahrenheittocelsius.com/)

As someone who rarely drives anywhere, it’s super important for me to know what the weather is like on a day-to-day basis, and I bet it’s important to you too! After all, how will you know what shoes to wear or whether you need a sweatshirt? And the difference between 70 and 80 degrees might not look like a lot, but it can certainly feel very different! In cases such as these, I depend on weather forecasters and their use of comparatives and superlatives.

What are comparatives and superlatives? I’m so glad you asked, but I’m also sure you already know. You just might not know that they have specific names. Comparatives and superlatives are forms of adjectives, words that are used to describe people, places, things, or ideas.

Comparatives have their definition built right into the word itself: they are used to compare two nouns. They almost always end in the letter combination “-er.” Examples of comparatives include: taller, larger, nicer, sweeter, faster, and higher. Here are some ways you can use comparatives to describe the weather in Boston:

• It is warmer in June than it is in February. (June is being compared to February.)

• It is cooler this June than it was last year. (June 2016 is being compared to June 2015.)

• The temperature is lower than the meteorologist’s prediction. (The current temperature is being compared to the temperature predicted by the local news.)

• The wind is blowing harder than I expected when I left the house. (The speed of the wind now is being compared to the speed at the time I left my house.)

Superlatives are used when comparing groups of nouns. They are used to describe the object that is the most of something, and they usually end in the letter combination “-est.” Examples of superlatives include: saddest, happiest, silliest, smallest, smartest, and loudest. Here are some ways you can use superlatives to describe the weather in Boston:

• We just had one of the hottest winters in my memory. (This winter is being compared to all of the other winters I can remember.)

• This is the heaviest rain we’ve received in a week. (Today’s rainfall is being compared to the rainfall from every day since this time last week.)

• The temperature will be at its highest in the middle of the day. (The temperature in the middle of the day is being compared with the temperatures at every other part of the day.)

Note that superlatives generally begin with the definite article “the” in front of them, as you are referring to one specific thing, the thing that is the “most something”–tallest, coolest, scariest, etc.–compared to all other similar things.

And, of course, since this is English we’re talking about, there are exceptions to the “-er/-est” rule! Not every comparative can end in “-er” and not every superlative can end in “-est.” Here are some examples:

• This is the goodest summer I’ve ever experienced. WRONG!

• This is the best summer I’ve ever experienced. RIGHT!

• The weather is much badder today than yesterday. WRONG!

• The weather is much worse today than yesterday. RIGHT!

• This is the confusingest weather we’ve ever had. WRONG!

• This is the most confusing weather we’ve ever had. RIGHT!

Want to know more about comparatives and superlatives? Here’s a great comprehensive list, organized alphabetically: http://www.easypacelearning.com/all-lessons/grammar/1436-comparative-superlative-adjectives-list-from-a-to-z

Want to know more about how to dress for weather in Boston? Here’s your five-day forecast: https://weather.com/weather/5day/l/USMA0046:1:US

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