The comparative form of adjectives in English and Spanish Syntax

Term Paper, 2001

9 Pages, Grade: 1,0 (A)

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The comparative form of adjectives in English and Spanish Syntax

“The comparative designates the degree of comparison of adjectives and adverbs higher than positive and lower than superlative”(MORRIS)

In our course, Syntax I, we had once the question where to put the morphemes indicating the comparative form of adjectives in a binary branched tree diagram and how to draw a tree diagram for a Comparative Clause. Then we heard that there are several possibilities, neither did one of them sound very logical to me, nor did they pass several tests in class. Therefore I asked to do this paper about the comparative, not only because I am very interested in it, but also because it is a recent problem with which we dealt lately in our Seminar. Furthermore I want to do a little bit of comparative linguistic work, because of my Spanish heritage. I will start my paper with showing how the two different languages build the comparative; at first the regular construction then where the irregularities are. Secondly I will come to the core of my work, namely the discussion of several alternatives tree’s and then finish my paper with a personal statement and a final conclusion.

Regular comparison:

The comparative is one of the three members of the basic system of comparison in English and Spanish which look like this:

( I ) English

positive comparative tall / beautiful

taller / more beautiful

superlative tallest / most beautiful

illustration not visible in this excerpt

As we can see in the given examples above there are two different types of building the comparative and the superlative in English whereas there is only one form in Spanish. The two different forms in English are namely:

( III )

morphological comparison with the Suffixes –er and –est

tall / tall -er /tall -est

syntactical comparison with more and most

beautiful / more beautiful / most beautiful

There is another form in Spanish expressing something like a preceding very or a super-,

but this form is not used in comparisons. It is a superlative, that is quite obvious because of its meaning and I am therefore calling it Non-Comparative-Superlative (NCS) in this piece of work. Now I will show the way how this NCS is build.

( IV )

illustration not visible in this excerpt

guapo/a guapisimo/a

illustration not visible in this excerpt

alto/a altisimo/a

I already mentioned the different use of the NCS and will now give some examples to illustrate this thesis.

( V )

( i ) Laura es guapisima

Laura is very beautiful

( ii ) Laura es más guapa que Inés

Laura is more beautiful than Inés

( iii ) Laura es la más guapa de toda la ciudad

Laura is the most beautiful girl in the whole city

But it is ungrammatical to say

( VI )


( iv )* Laura es guapisima que Inés

( v ) * Laura es guapisima de toda la ciudad

Because of this non-comparative use of the NCS I am not going to deal with them further in my paper.

Irregular comparison:

There are only few irregularly compared forms in English as well as in Spanish.

( VII )

good better best

bad/ill worse worst

much/many more most

( VIII )

bueno/a mejor él/la/lo mejor

malo/a peor él/la/lo peor

mucho más él/la/lo que mas

Interestingly these three irregular words are the same ones like in English, although Spanish is a Roman language, whereas English is of German origin. There are four other adjectives in Spanish which build the comparative and the superlative irregularly, but the interesting thing about them is, that they can also be built regularly.

( IX )

( i ) joven menor él/la/lo menor joven = young but also: joven más joven él/la/lo más joven

illustration not visible in this excerpt

I find it very interesting that the irregular compared forms of joven (young) and pequeño (small) are actually the same just like the compared forms of their antonyms viejo (old) and grande (big) are the same word, too.

Placing compared forms of adjectives in tree diagrams

The first way to differ the argument structure in English comparatives I want to show is the one MATTHEWS proposes. He works with substituency tests and I will now illustrate his thoughts.

( X )

( i ) Peter is more handsome than Poirot.

Substitutions for handsome

( ii ) Peter is more handsome than Poirot. ( iii ) Peter is more elusive than Poirot.

( iv ) Peter is more inelegant than Poirot.

Dropping of more…than Poirot

( v ) Peter is handsome.

Dropping out words of more…than Poirot separately ( vi ) *Peter is more handsome than.

( vii ) *Peter is more handsome Poirot.

( viii ) *Peter is handsome than Poirot.

Because of this evidence MATTHEWS states that handsome “is one syntactic unit and “ more…than Poirot “must be another, with it’s three words standing in a close interdependence” (MATTHEWS p. 55) When we do the same tests with an adjective which builds the comparison with the bound grammatical morphemes {-er} and {-est} we see the following

( XI )

( i ) Peter is smaller than Poirot.

Substitutions for tall

( ii ) Peter is prettier than Poirot. ( iii ) Peter is bigger than Poirot.

9 of 9 pages


The comparative form of adjectives in English and Spanish Syntax
1,0 (A)
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English, Spanish, Syntax
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Iñaki Urquiaga (Author), 2001, The comparative form of adjectives in English and Spanish Syntax, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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