What’s happening to comparative adjectives?

I don’t know if anyone else has noticed, but the English seem to be losing the capacity to use comparative adjectives (hot, hotter, hottest) and are using “more hot” and “most hot”.  I was at a friend’s house last night, and I was chatting to their daughter.  She stumbled over a comparative (I can’t remember which one now).  She started using the most construction and then self-corrected herself to use the comparative.  And I’ve heard this self-correction happen loads of times.

I’ve long held the opinion that English is really a non-inflectional language, and am wondering if this is purely an extension of this phenomenon.  I think this would be an interesting PhD topic for a social linguist out there – get some data from children (the language innovators) and find out what’s happening properly.

If it’s not to do with inflection, then it could just be a semantic issue, perhaps to do with scope, where the intensifier has scope over the object.  i.e. most hot.  So the important thing here is the intensity.

One final thought is that it could be a borrowing from other languages: in Italian there is no inflection for the comparative -er.  Instead they use the adverb piu’ (meaning more). So, given that English is mostly spoken as a foreign language, second language speakers are affecting first language speakers.

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    One Response to What’s happening to comparative adjectives?

    1. Interesting observation about language you make. I haven’t noticed exactly that phenomenon in Swedish, but others, that signal that things are happening with the language. Irregular verb inflexions are gradually replaced by regular . Object forms of pronomina are dropped – e g “I gave him the book” -> “I gave he the book”. Etc etc.
      There are several linguists that have written about the gradual changes (I say deterioration) in Swedish – most of them seem to approve, maybe from “political correctness”. Eventually, I fear, few young Swedes will understand what I say.

      Björn Bergström

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