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the most fluffy marshmallows ever

November 11, 2013

 Yesterday, in a newsagent’s near me, I saw a box of chocolate-covered marshmallows bearing the slogan: ‘The most fluffy marshmallows ever!”

Most fluffy? Hmmm…

Way back when I used to teach English as a Foreign Language, I recall teaching the rules for comparatives and superlatives. The basic rule is that all adjectives of one syllable form the comparative and superlative by adding -er and -est: thus, cold, colder, coldest; hot, hotter, hottest etc. With longer adjectives, no suffix is added, and instead we use more and most: thus, curious, more curious, most curious. But an exception to this rule was two-syllable adjectives ending in -y – these do take the suffixes -er and -est, with appropriate modifications in spelling. Thus: happy, happier, happiest; silly, sillier, silliest; and, therefore, fluffy, fluffier, fluffiest, or so one would have thought. (There are a few other two-syllable exceptions, too: clever, cleverer, cleverest; simple, simpler, simplest.)

Yet the old rule is crumbling. More and more frequently, I’m seeing comparatives formed with more, when there seems no need for it.

My guess is that there is a natural drive towards simplification (which raises the perplexing question of how language got to be complicated in the first place, but there you go). It is simpler (or should that be more simple?) to dispense with exceptions and regularise. And perhaps adjectives which are slightly less common, like fluffy, are the first to be regularised, whereas the exceptional status of more common adjectives, like happy, is kept in good repair.

This may not be the interestingest post I’ve ever written, but I felt it needed to be said.

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2 Comments
  1. Jams O'Donnell permalink

    Curiouser and curiouser…?

  2. Oh yes – for Alice had quite forgotten to speak good English…

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