To form superlative and comparative adverbs is quite simple with one simple rule. But, first, what are superlative and comparative forms?
hot plate (positive) hotter plate (comparative) hottest plate (superlative)
difficult (positive) more difficult (comparative) most difficult (superlative)
Yes, not all adverbs end with a -ly that our English Language Arts teacher in fourth grade (or any grade!) had taught us. (Note: The above examples are adjectives. We’ll get to the adverbs in just a moment.) They can end with -er, -est, more, and most, depending on the adjective being used. To know which suffix to use, follow this one simple rule dealing with the number of syllables in the word. One-syllable adjectives use -er and -est; some two-syllable adjectives use -er and -est; most use more and most; three-syllable adjectives uses more and most. While this doesn’t clear up what form to use, adverbs use the same rule parted to the adjectives.
The Syllable Rule:
Sylvia ran fast.
Sylvia ran faster.
Sylvia ran fastest.
The -ly Rule:
Sylvia spoke quietly.
Sylvia spoke more quietly.
Sylvia spoke most quietly.
The Look-It Up Rule:
When you are ever in doubt, look it up. However, there are many forms to adverbs. For instance the verb clear. If you look it up, you’ll notice that the verb can be an adverb using the -er, -est, and -ly endings. So, what to use without defending your position of using the word correctly? Use what is popularly accepted. While all forms for clear is okay (clearer, clearest, more clearly, most clearly), the popular form without wordsmiths breathing down you back is the more and most comparative and superlative forms.
While I’m editing, I’ll notice words or stylistics being used in a narrative. I’ll highlight the word or stylistic being used and say things like “This could also be formatted like this” or “It could be spelled like this” or “FYI”. If it’s a consistency issue (as both forms are acceptable) I’ll highlight and say “Stay consistent. Choose one.”
Stay tuned for next week, Adverbs Again?!: Phrases.