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When the adjective or participle is itself qualified it follows the noun : as,
Milton, Paradise Lost, i. 664. 172. When two numerals qualify one noun, the ordinal adjective generally stands first, and the cardinal second : as,
the last three chapters of John,' the first two of Matthew.' Strictly, there cannot be three last chapters,' or 'two first chapters.' And yet the terms three last' and 'two first,' might occur in another construction, and with a different meaning. For instance, if there were three classes in a school, the boys at the bottom of each might be termed the three last. Or if there were two classes, the boys at the head of each might be styled the two first.'
DEGREES OF COMPARISON.
173. English adjectives have no changes to express gender, nuniber, or case ; but they undergo changes, to denote Degrees of Comparison. There are three Degrees of Comparison, in English : 1. The Positive, which gives the word in its simplest
form; as bright. 2. The Comparative, which ascribes a quality in a higher
degree; as brighter. 3. The Superlative, which ascribes a quality in the
highest degree; as brightest. We have two methods of denoting comparison in adjectives; one, derived from the Anglo-Saxon, by adding terminations to the positive; the other, borrowed from the NormanFrench, by prefixing to the positive the adverbs more and most.
Formation of Comparison by adding Terminations. First Rule. In Adjectives, which end in a consonant, the comparative is formed by adding -er, and the superlative by adding -est to the positive; as bright, bright-er, bright-est.
Obs.—When an adjective ends in -e, the vowel e of the termi
nation -er, -est, is dropped, or, practically, -- and -st are added to the positive: as wise, wise-r, wise-st.
Second Rule.-When the positive ends in d, g, or t, preceded
by a single vowel, the final consonant is doubled in form-,
hottest. But if the d, g, or t be preceded by another consonant, or by more than one vowel, the final consonant is not doubled :: as, kind kinder
neatest. Third Rule.-- When the positive ends in y, preceded by a consonant, the y is changed to i before -er and -est: as, lovely loveli-er
loveli-est. These rules are applicable to adjectives of one or two syllables, which very commonly are of Anglo-Saxon derivation. With adjectives containing more than two syllables, it is usual to prefix more and most. The Germans, indeed, append the terminations -er and -est to all adjectives, no matter how many syllables they may contain. But in English, custom has ruled that the terminations -er and -est shall be restricted to adjectives of one and two syllables.
174. In the Indo-European family of languages, a few adjectives exhibit peculiarities of comparison : and it is curious to remark that these adjectives, in the several languages, correspond in meaning. For our purpose, it will be sufficient to compare the English with the Latin. good better
minimus. Some grammarians maintain that these forms as, for example, good and better, are derived from distinct roots. Dr. Latham says that good has no comparative or superlative: and that better has no positive.—Latham, English Grammar, $ 110.
Professor Key, in an able treatise appended to his Alphabet,
endeavours to prove that good, better, best,' bonus, melior, optimus,' owe their variety of form to two principles : (1) the difference of pronunciation, called dialect;' (2) those euphonic changes which grow out of the approximation of particular sounds. Professor Key's arguments are highly ingenious; I wish I could add that they are equally convincing.
175. The following peculiarities of comparison deserve notice, especially in reference to the use of the termination -most : aft after
outer, utter 'utmost, outermost.
upmost, uppermost. Grimm doubts whether such words as “after-most,' 'inmost' are formed immediately by the addition of -most. He finds in Gothic and in Anglo-Saxon superlative forms astuma, innema, and, what he considers double superlatives, æftemest, innemest. According to this view, both the letter m, and the termination -est, are marks of the superlative degree. Then he thinks that the English forms aftermost,' inmost,' &c., have arisen by corruption, or by false analogy. To use his own expression, the English termination -most in these words is an unorganic -most.' See Grimm, Deutsche Grammatik, vol. iii. pp. 628–631 : and compare Latham, English Language, § 481, English Grammar, $ 117.
176. We must beware of supposing that comparison necessarily involves the notion of greater or less; for in the sentence, • He is as tall as I am,' we have as truly a comparison as in the sentence, 'He is taller than I am.' In other words, there may be a comparison of equality; and in the Welsh language there is a fourth degree of comparison, with a distinct form, to express
the relation which we denote by prefixing as or 80 to the positive. See Rowland, Welsh Grammar, $ 149.
Hence, before we make use of a comparison, involving the notion of greater or less, we should consider whether the quality expressed by the adjective admits of degrees. Strictly speaking, perfect is an absolute term: that which is not perfect' is 'imperfect,' and although a thing may be brought nearer to perfection than it was before, it cannot properly be called "more perfect.' Yet Addison writes :
Our sight is the most perfect and most delightful of all
our senses.—Spectator, No. 411. Similarly extreme is ' uttermost,' and yet many persons write most extreme, that is literally most uttermost.' In the following passages we find extremest:
While the extremest parts of the earth were meditating a
Addison, Travels. 177. Cobbett well remarks, (English Grammar, $ 220) :'But our ears are accustomed to the adverbs of exaggeration. Some writers deal in these to a degree that tires the ear and offends the understanding. With them every thing is excessively or immensely or extremely or vastly or surprisingly or wonderfully or abundantly, or the like. The notion of such writers is, that these words give strength to what they are saying. This is a great error. Strength must be found in the thought, or it will never be found in the words. Bigsounding words, without thoughts corresponding, are effort without effect.'
178. The word chief, derived from the French chef, 'head, denotes primacy; and as there can be no more than one • first' in the same series, it is not strictly correct to say chiefest. Yet we read :
Whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant
of all.- Mark x. 44.
Atterbury, Sermons, iv. 10.
Milton, I Penseroso. 179. When we are comparing things, or classes of things, it is necessary to consider whether our comparison involves the number two, or more than two.
If we compare two things, or two classes of things; or, if
one individual is contrasted with the rest of a class, we use the comparative degree : as,
An acre in Middlesex is better than a principality in
Utopia. He is wiser than all the rest put together. But if we mean to express that one of a class, more than two, possesses a quality in the highest degree, we employ the super
This was the noblest Roman of them all.
Julius Cæsar, v. 4. 180. As we have seen, there are two methods, in English, of denoting the comparative and the superlative degree; and this is one proof, among others, that English is a mixed language, in its grammar, as well as in its vocabulary. For the AngloSaxon, in comparisons, varied the adjective by change of termination only, and not by adverbs corresponding to more and most, while the Norman-French made use of adverbs. The English employs both methods; the latter uniformly with long words. (Compare $$ 138-140.)
Now some of our older writers, when they wish to be emphatic, employ double comparatives or superlatives; so Shakespeare:
Timon will to the woods ; where he shall find
Timon of Athens, iv. 1.
Julius Cæsar, iii. 2. 181. When both forms are used in the same phrase, it is better to put the adjective ending in -er or -est first, and then the adjective combined with more or most; as,
He was the wisest and most learned of them all. Otherwise it is desirable to repeat the article :
He was the most learned, and the wisest of them all. 182. In using comparatives and superlatives, we ought to take care that the construction be consistent with itself.
When a superlative is used, the class which furnishes the objects of comparison, and which is introduced by of, should always include the thing compared. Yet Milton, imitating a Greek idiom, writes :
Adam the goodliest man, of men since born
Paradise Lost, iv. 323.