Thursday, August 11, 2011

You'd best use "better"

I like to tell people that I read a newspaper. Yes, a newspaper. The actual paper kind. Like in the old days. Most people look at me like I'm speaking Swahili (I have a lot of young friends who read everything online). Call me crazy, but I still like to sit on the couch on Sunday morning and flip through the pages of the Star Tribune in my own particular order.

First, I discard the ads. Then I pass the sports section to Marc, and the weather section to James. Then ... my weekly dose of celebrity news in Parade magazine.

Yep, I can't read the rest of the paper until I've gotten the oh-so-important dish on what Angelina Jolie is like in real life or whatever happened to the kid who played cousin Oliver on The Brady Bunch. The rest of the content in Parade, however, is somewhat less interesting.

Take the recent article titled "The Battle of Dogs vs. Cats." First of all, this is a non-debate in my mind because dogs clearly rule. I know many (my husband among them) will disagree with this, but they're just wrong. Second, the article seems like a desperate space-filler to me. How many hundreds of times has this topic been discussed?

But I digress. The real reason I bring this up is that it's a good lesson on when to use a comparative (e.g., better) and when to use the superlative (e.g., best). Here are some of the subheads in the article:

Which Are Better Hunters?
Which Are the Hardest Working?
Which Live the Longest?
Which Are the Fastest?

Well, they got the first one right. They're comparing only two things -- cats and dogs -- so better is the right word. One is better than the other (dogs, of course -- ha ha). If there were more than two things being compared, then you would use the superlative (best). The remaining three subheads use superlatives, but they shouldn't. This is how they should read:

Which Are Harder Working?
Which Live Longer?
Which Are Faster?

So, to ensure that you don't make this grave mistake, remember: the "-er" ending for comparing two things and "-est" for three or more.

Coming soon: Why I used ensure in the above sentence and not insure or assure; why I used e.g. and not i.e. in the fifth paragraph; and why I used titled and not entitled in paragraph four. Wow, I just gave myself three new topics to write about!

1 comment:

  1. On the cat vs. dog issue, you and I agree. You lost me at, "...discard the ads." Matt calls the ads, "Colleen's Section."