What is the comperative form of "shy"?

I'm not sure which one I should use between "shier", "shyer" and "more shy." I was told whichever is fine but is that true?


  • I don't think the shier spelling is a good idea. The advantage of shyer is that we can see at a glance that it's a form of shy.

    Whether to use more is a trickier question. It's tied in with rhythm: the rhythm of the word and the rhythm of the sentence that it's used in.

    Shy has a heavy rhythm. The vowel is like two vowel sounds — starting like TRAP and ending like FLEECE. (The technical term is diphthong.) For adjectives like this with one heavy sound (and no other syllables) it's always possible to form comparatives with -er and superlatives with -est.

    So shyer is always possible, but is it necessary?

    The OED quotations have two examples of more shy

    Men generally became more shy of his acquaintance. (from 1683)
    The robin is more shy. (from 1908)

    As a native-speaker, I feel these are fine because the rhythm is fine in both cases.

    By contrast the adjective big has a vowel which is light. The OED shows no example of more big, and it's hard to think of a sentence where the rhythm could make it sound right.

    If it helps, here's an example from a famous poem, To His Coy Mistress by Andrew Marvell. The adjective slow also has one heavy vowel sound (and no other syllables) — also a combination of two shorter vowel sounds (a diphthong). So the comparative is usually slower.

    My vegetable love should grow
    Vaster than empires and more slow;

    This principle of the rhythm of a word is more important with adjectives of two syllables, but that's even trickier.

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