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Morphological formation of the comparative

The comparative, like the superlative, can be formed in two ways, that is, by attaching a suffix to the adjective or by putting a word in front of it.

  • It can be formed morphologically, by the addition of the morpheme –er, as in belangrik·er more important.
  • It can be formed periphrastically, by the addition of the word meer more as in meer ontsteld more dismayed.
In this section, we will first explain the morphological formation, which could be either regular or irregular.

The comparative suffix -er (and its allomorph -der) are used to convert adjectives in the positive degree to adjectives in the comparative degree, as in the following examples:

Example 1

a. sterk → sterkּּ·er
strong strong·CMPR
strong → stronger
b. gevaarlik → gevaarlik·er
dangerous dangerous·CMPR
dangerous → more dangerous
c. ver → ver·der
far → far·CMPR
far → further

A very small set of adjectives displays irregular comparatives, which cannot be linked to the positive degree by means of any phonological or orthographical rule. One example:

Example 2

goed → beter
good → better

It should be noted that the other members of this set, namely graag → liewer gladly → rather, baie → meer very, many, much → more, and its counterpart veel, which has a restricted functional distribution, and weinig → minder little, few → less, also a functionally more restricted counterpart of min, differ from each other with regards to the syntactic functions they fulfil, such as adverbial, attributive or attributive.


The comparative form of adjectives may display either

  • a morphologically adapted form of the positive degree, as in siek·er more sick, derived from siek, or
  • a syntactic construction, formed by preposing the comparative form meer more to the positive degree form, as in meer ontspanne more relaxed.
The suffix -er, together with its phonologically determined allomorph -der (used when the adjective stem ends on /r/), represents the bulk of comparative forms, as in these examples:

Example 3

a. sterk → sterk·er
strong → stronger
b. suiwer → suiwer·der
pure → purer
c. fluks → fluks·er
diligent → more diligent

On the basis of the regularity of these forms, it is also known as the regular morphological formation. However, in addition to the allomorphic variation found in the occurrence of the affix, conditioned by the stem-final /r/, a number of variants of the regular formation, conditioned by different phonological environments, can be identified. A very restricted set of adjectives have irregular comparative forms, as shown in example (4), which will not be discussed further here.

Firstly, intervocalic deletion of certain consonants occurs after the addition to the adjective stem of the -er suffix, accompanied by orthographic changes to retain the distinctive features of the stem vowel.

So, for example, when the adjective stem ends in a vowel plus /d/, deletion of the letter d shows up in the spelling:

Example 4

a. wyd → wy·er (<wyd·er)
wide → wider
b. koud → kou·er (<koud.·er)
cold → colder

An exception to this rule is found in the adjective kwaad angry, which becomes kwat·er (<kwaad·er) in the comparative degree, and retains the long pronunciation of /a/. It should be noted here that vowels such as /a/ and /o/, when long, are doubled in the spelling of closed syllables, but not in open syllables – hence also the spelling of va·er (<vaag·er) vaguer from vaag.

The previous example is part of another group of adjectives, ending in /x/, and preceded by a long or high vowel, where deletion of the final consonant occurs likewise:

Example 5

a. ruig → rui·er (<ruig·er)
bushy → more bushy
b. droog → dro·ër (<droog·er)
dry → drier
c. moeg → moe·ër (<moeg·er)
tired → more tired

If the stem ends in a vowel plus /f/, the voiceless fricative is voiced:

Example 6

a. dof → doww·er (<dof·er)
dim → dimmer
b. doof → dow·er (<doof·er)
deaf → more deaf
c. gaaf → gaw·er (<gaaf·er)
likeable → more likable

Note that the vowel features of the stem are retained by means of the spelling of the comparative in each of the examples above. Long vowels are reflected by means of an open syllable, followed by a single consonant (as in the last two examples), while the short vowel /ɔ/ retains its quality by means of the doubling of the final stem consonant in the comparative form, as in the first example.

Diachronic traces of stem-final consonant clusters that have been simplified in Afrikaans become evident in comparative forms of adjectives ending in certain voiceless obstruents, such as /s/ and /x/. If an adjective stem ends in such a voiceless obstruent with an underlying (diachronic) /t/, the underlying segment is realised in the comparative form, as in the following examples:

Example 7

a. sag → sagt·er
soft → softer
b. vas → vast·er
firm → firmer
c. sleg → slegt·er
bad → worse
d. lig → ligt·er
light → lighter
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