Easier or More Easy?

Until recently, I would probably have told you that easier is the only correct version. Now though, I’m not sure it’s quite so simple.

I wrote about comparative forms of adjectives before, but to recap, the rules in English are pretty simple. For monosyllabic adjectives, we add -er or -r to the end of the adjective, and for longer adjectives we put more before the adjective, except for those ending in -y, in which cases we change -y to -ier.

Not too complicated, apart from occasional considerations like doubling consonants, and those few odd cases when it’s genuinely hard to know which form to use.

Lately though, I’ve been noticing a lot of cases of people using more before an adjective ending in -y. He’s more friendly than her, for example.

I don’t think this is necessarily a new trend, because I’ve been noticing it in older books I’ve been reading lately, as well as in current writing.

As fond as I am of grammatical rules, seeing this one broken doesn’t upset me very much. First of all, I get it. The -y to -ier rule doesn’t cover a great many adjectives. And we tend to be binary in our thinking, so for most of us, our brains tend to think of there being two basic rules for making comparative forms: -er, or more, with the -ier adjectives being a funny little exception we might easily forget about.

And if we do forget about it by saying, for example, more friendly, or more happy, it doesn’t really sound so bad as we’re used to hearing more before multisyllabic adjectives.

It may well be though, that this really is a growing trend. And if that’s the case, it wouldn’t surprise me, and I suspect it might be due to the fact that there are more non-native speakers of English than native speakers. Comparative forms of adjectives are usually learned pretty early on, but, as for native speakers, the -ier rule is easy to forget, particularly as most learners don’t get to use them often enough for the rule to stick in their heads.

Most people therefore do just fine not following the -ier rule, and as more and more people speak English as a second language, it becomes more likely that this will even affect native speakers, as we become more accustomed to hearing non-native speakers speak English.

In fact, we might see comparative adjectives evolve even further in the future. A lot of languages only have one way to make comparative forms of adjectives. And very often, it’s similar in structure to using more, involving adding a word before the adjective.

A lot of people therefore just add more, regardless of how many syllables the adjective has. Now, for a native speaker, more big or more small might sound odd. But that’s just because we’re used to bigger and smaller, and that’s not necessarily the case for non-native speakers. And as more non-native speakers use English together, without anyone to jump in to correct them, it might become the norm in the future.

That idea might be infuriating for grammar purists, but I can easily imagine people 100 years from now thinking we were quaint in insisting on the unneccesary complexity of having three different rules for forming comparative forms of adjectives.

3 thoughts on “Easier or More Easy?

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