Superlative for two

Dutch says “the biggest” of two things (superlative), but English says “the bigger” (comparative).

It’s only a comparatively minor error, of course. But there are occasions when the native does a double-take upon coming across the superlative for just two cases and starts wondering where the other possibilities are.

  • English only uses the superlative form (biggest, nearest, richest, fastest, etc.) when there are several options involved, and the comparative form (bigger, nearer, richer, faster) for just two cases

Dutch writers often only seem to use the comparative form along with “than”: he is faster than me. (Or erroneously with “then”, but that’s a different post altogether…)

Prevalence: high. Because Dutch and English are so similar, people expect to transliterate nuances like these without having to think too hard.
Frequency: high. Dutch writers often only seem to use the -er form in a few favourite grammatical structures.
Native: no. To compare two things, as the name suggests, we use the comparative.

Published by Mike Wilkinson

Twenty years of translating and editing Dutch into English, as well as writing and publishing in English.

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