Comparison of adjectives


This shirt is the cheaper of the two

I wonder why the comparison is cheaper and not cheapest. Aren't the sentence is referring to more than two items and so it should use -est? And cheaper will be used when comparing two items.

Eaten Taik

Posted 2019-01-07T15:09:13.270

Reputation: 147

Question was closed 2019-01-08T14:44:49.563


Possible duplicate of Meaning of and using (elder). Specifically, as per the answer there, *If you have two apples, one of them is not the biggest of the two but the bigger of the two.*

– FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2019-01-07T15:50:24.227



The rule is that "-est" can only be used if you have 3 or more items to compare. If there are only 2, you say one is "-er" (than the other one). There isn't any real "reason" to it, that's just the way it is taught.

"This shirt is the cheapest of the three shirts."

"This shirt is cheaper than the other one."

"Of the two shirts, this is the cheaper."

But, people break this "rule" a lot. You will frequently hear people saying, and writing, "-est" when there are only 2 items being compared.

Lorel C.

Posted 2019-01-07T15:09:13.270

Reputation: 10 949

1You perhaps overstate the principle in your first sentence. In contexts such as *He offered me two apples to choose between, and I was hungry, so naturally I chose the biggest [one]* most people would say it was a bit "pretentious" to use comparative *bigger* rather than superlative *biggest*. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2019-01-07T15:55:45.943

Count me in a bit pretentious! I curse the TV commentators who are forever telling me who is the fastest of two athletes or the best of two boxers. But I'm probably a little older than most! – Ronald Sole – 2019-01-07T19:02:13.893

Unfortunately, whoever it was that made up this pointless and unnecessary rule managed to hoodwink generations of teachers into inflicting it on their pupils. Writers such as Jane Austen and Anthony Trollope were content to talk about "the eldest/youngest of two" (as Oliver Kamm points out). So, if you care that some sticklers may judge you for it, you'd better say "bigger". – Colin Fine – 2019-01-08T00:22:05.107

I think this rule is silly. It doesn’t help us communicate more clearly because “-er” of two is the exact same thing as -est of two. I still upvoted your answer though, because even though the rule is silly, if enough people are using it on tests and such, a rule can make knowing the right answer much easier for learners. – ColleenV – 2019-01-08T14:53:01.200