The Grammarphobia Blog

Stupid is as stupid does

Q: A teacher once told me not to use a “more” comparative (“more stupid”) when a one-word version (“stupider”) is available. Is this true? I trust your knowledge more than hers since she used to pronounce “height” as if it had a “th” at the end.

A: Your teacher was wrong about comparatives. There’s no rule against using “more stupid” if you wish, instead of “stupider,” as the comparative form of the adjective.

Use  whichever sounds best in context, rhythmically and otherwise: “lovelier” or “more  lovely”; “commoner” or “more  common”; “rarer” or “more rare”; “livelier” or “more lively,” and so on. 

Just because a one-word version of a comparative or superlative exists doesn’t mean you can’t use the two-word version (with “more” or “most”).

We’re a little surprised at your teacher’s insistence. Last year, we answered a question from a man whose teacher insisted just the opposite – that “stupidest” was incorrect, and that the appropriate superlative form of “stupid” was “most stupid.”

If you’d like to read more about comparatives and superlatives, we wrote a blog entry a year and a half ago about the common conventions for forming them.

Interestingly, speakers and writers of English once even used “liker” and “likest” as comparative and superlative terms (equivalent to “more similar” and “most similar”). We’ve written a posting about that too.

Finally, a few words about your teacher’s pronunciation of “height.”

Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.) does include a pronunciation with a “th” sound at the end, but it describes this as an unacceptable variant that may be heard in educated speech.

Although the variant pronunciation is rarely heard now, it reflects the word’s original pronunciation in Old English, according to The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.).

And, yes, we’ve also had a posting that discusses the origins of “height,” which Anglo-Saxons spelled with the Old English version of “th” at the end.

Buy our books at a local store, Amazon.com, or Barnes&Noble.com.