Professional Style

Absolutes/Incomparables

July 2010
Spot the Error

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessing of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution of the United States of America.

As brilliant as Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Thomas Paine, James Madison and other authors of our Constitution were, these forefathers were not perfect. If they were, they would not have used the phrase “a more perfect union.”

Perfect is an absolute, meaning there are no varying degrees of the word. There is no “less perfect,” “more perfect,” or “most perfect.” Simply put, either something is perfect or it is not.

Most adjectives in the English language lend themselves to making comparisons:

  • Happy, happier, happiest.
  • Big, bigger, biggest.
  • Rough, rougher, roughest.

However, there are certain words that are absolutes or incomparables (words that cannot be used for comparison). In addition to perfect, the list of absolutes includes:

  • Absolute.
  • Equal.
  • Fatal.
  • Final.
  • Total.
  • Unique.

So, when striving for perfection in your writing, you can’t get more perfect than letting perfect stand on its own.

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