I’m Glad to Give You My Opinion – Uncomparable Adjectives

“I am gladder to be here than there.”

I heard this sentence today, and being an English teacher, my first instinct was to correct it.

“I am more glad to be here than there.”

This seemed better, but still didn’t ring correctly in my ear. I further honed it to, “I am happier to be here than there.”

Wait. What’s going on with “glad”? Glad means happy. “Happy” uses the comparative form “happier” and the superlative form “happiest.” Why would “gladder” and “gladdest” be wrong?

The short answer: it’s not wrong.

The long answer: it could be wrong. Wrong is probably too strong of a word. “Seldom-used” is probably better. Grammatically, one can quantify the level of gladness by adding -der to make the comparative, and -est to make the superlative, just like you would any other single-syllable adjective. My research, however, shows that “more glad” and “most glad” are used much more often. These terms still sound uncomfortable to my ear, and I really want to change them to “more happy” and “most happy.”

I’ve always used “glad” in a way that you can either be glad, or not. No in-between, no other way. Another word must be used if comparatives and superlatives are needed. I’m guessing that many other native English speakers use “glad” in the same way.

Looking this up brought me to a category of adjectives that I haven’t thought about: uncomparable adjectives.

Uncomparable adjectives are just what the name says: adjectives that have no degree, or way to make them more, or the most. Here’s a short list of examples:

  • fatal
  • only
  • perfect
  • pregnant
  • sufficient
  • unique
  • whole
  • worthless

A quick test is to look at the word and decide if this adjective describes something that either is, or isn’t. For example, it sounds silly to say, “The cat is more pregnant than the dog.” A correct sentence would be: “Both the cat and the dog are pregnant.” Or, “The pregnant cat is about to give birth, while the pregnant dog has many weeks to go.”

Note that some of these uncomparable adjectives are sometimes used as a superlative only. Using them this way isn’t technically correct, but it can get a point across that might be difficult to do otherwise. “That’s the most unique painting I’ve ever seen!” Or, “That’s the most worthless car I’ve ever owned. It’s always breaking down.” In these cases “unique” and “worthless” both are binary: they either are, or aren’t. They are used in the superlative to show some creative exaggeration, or to stress a point. This effect doesn’t seem to work with the comparative.

Looking again at “glad,” I can’t think of a good reason why one couldn’t be gladder than the other, or someone to be the gladdest of all. These forms are technically correct. However, my opinion is that “glad” is usually used in modern English to be either yes or no. One is glad, or not. While you can be gladder, I would recommend you to be happier.

Can you think of any uncomparable adjectives? Do you agree with my opinion about “glad?” Please leave a comment.

Glossary:

binary /ˈbaɪnəri/: only two choices; yes or no; one or zero.

to hone /ˈhoʊn/: literally – to sharpen. In this context it means to refine, or to change for the better. All of that practice has really honed his skills as a guitar player.

quantify /ˈkwɑːntəˌfaɪ/: to measure, or determine the amount of.

uncomparable /ˌʌnˈkɑːmpərəbəl/: not comparable. Usually this word is incomparable, but in this case un- is used to highlight that it is an adjective that is not able to be compared.

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