This time there might be nothing wrong with the multiple choice questions, but I am hard put to it anyway.
The answer choices are :
"Of their two sons, John was ... clever... .
A) ... the ...est
B) ... (nothing) ... est
C) ... the most ... (nothing)
D) ... the ... er"
My first reaction was to hesitate between A) and C) (seeing both "most clever" and "cleverest" are heard in English.) But then I discovered quite a few occurrences of "the cleverer of the two" (or something like that) on Google - even on uk sites.
I am at a loss what to think. Once again, only one answer is supposed to be acceptable.
I eventually managed to find the answer in a grammar book (D is expected here). (I should have looked it up from the beginning. Shame on me.)
What I had been taught is that the comparative is used when you want to compare two elements and the superlative when you want to single out one element of a group, which is not very helpful in the present case because a group may be a group of two.
But the subrule I found is this : when the group is reduced to two elements, the comparative is used : I'll buy the cheaper book.
Thanks for your help. Your reactions are very useful to me, for they highlight the difference between prescriptive grammar and language in use.
"We use a superlative to compare sth/smb with the whole group it/he/she belongs to.
When a group only has two members we sometimes use a comparative instead of a superlative.
I like Betty and Maude, but Betty is the nicer/nicest of the two.
Some people feel that a superlative is incorrect in this case."