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Encyclopedia > Superlative

In grammar the superlative of an adjective or adverb is a form of adjective or adverb which indicates that something has some feature to a greater degree than anything it is being compared to in a given context. For example, if Adam is 45, Bess is 35, and Chris is 25, Adam is the oldest of the three, because his age transcends those of Bess and Chris in one direction, while Chris is the youngest, because his age transcends those of Adam and Bess in the other direction. If Dan, who is 50, and Edna, who is 20, join the group, Dan now becomes the oldest and Edna the youngest. In grammar, nouns in the superlative case typically denote objects over which or onto the top of which another object moves (movement over or onto the top of is important here). ... For the topic in theoretical computer science, see Formal grammar Grammar is the study of rules governing the use of language. ... In grammar, an adjective is a word whose main syntactic role is to modify a noun or pronoun (called the adjectives subject), giving more information about what the noun or pronoun refers to. ... An adverb is a part of speech. ...

However, when comparing only two entities, use of the superlative is ungrammatical: if the group were to contain only Adam and Bess, Adam would be older, while Bess would be younger and it would be ungrammatical to say that Adam was the oldest. The superlative degree used in reference to sets of two or fewer are nevertheless commonly found in writing and speech - an example of this being an auction to the "highest bidder" in which only one bid were received, where the rules of English grammar would not negate the sale.[1]


The superlative in English

In English, the superlative and the comparative are created by inflecting adjectives or adverbs. The structure of a superlative consists normally of the positive stem of the adjective or adverb, plus the suffix -est, or (especially in words of a Latin or Romance origin) the modifier "most" or "least" before the adjective or adverb. It always has the definite article and is completed by "of" or other preposition plus one or more nouns of entities that it surpasses to the highest or greatest degree, such as in "he is the tallest of/in the class," or "the town is the most beautiful town in the country." The English language is a West Germanic language that originates in England. ... In grammar the comparative is the form of an adjective or adverb which denotes the degree or grade by which a person, thing, or other entity has a property or quality greater or less in extent than that of another. ... Inflection of the Spanish lexeme for cat, with blue representing the masculine gender, pink representing the feminine gender, grey representing the form used for mixed-gender, and green representing the plural number. ... In grammar, an adjective is a word whose main syntactic role is to modify a noun or pronoun (called the adjectives subject), giving more information about what the noun or pronoun refers to. ... An adverb is a part of speech. ... Positive is the form of an adjective or adverb on which comparative and superlative are formed. ... It has been suggested that Ending (linguistics) be merged into this article or section. ... The word modifier applies to either the adjective or the adverb in a sentence. ... An article is a word that combines with a noun to indicate the type of reference being made by the noun. ... In linguistics, a noun or noun substantive is a lexical category which is defined in terms of how its members combine with other grammatical kinds of expressions. ...

Mention should be made also of the elative, which is not an actual separate inflection but the intensified degree of adverbs and adjectives. Adjectives at the elative do not refer to other objects, like a superlative does; e.g., "she is very beautiful"; "she is most beautiful" (intensification in this case means "very beautiful indeed"). Simply put; the word 'superlative' is defined as: See Elative for disambiguation. ...

  • (as a noun) an exaggerated mode of expression (usually of praise); "the critics lavished superlatives on it"
  • (as a noun) the greatest: the highest in quality
  • the superlative form of an adjective; `best' is the superlative form of `good', 'most' when used together with an adjective or adverb

Superlatives in other languages

Romance languages

In contrast to English, in the grammars of most romance languages the elative and the superlative are joined into the same degree (superlative), which can be of two kinds: comparative (e.g. "the most beautiful") and absolute (e.g. "very beautiful").

French: The superlative is created from the comparative by inserting the definitive article (la, le, or les) before "plus" or "moins" and the adjective determining the noun. For instance: Elle est la plus belle femme → (she is the most beautiful woman); Cette ville est la moins chère de France → (this town is the least expensive in France).

Spanish: The comparative superlative, like in French, has the definite article (such as "las", "el"), or the possessive article (such as "tus", "nuestra", "su"), followed by the comparative ("más" or "menos"), so that "el meñique es el dedo más pequeño" is "the pinky is the smallest finger." Irregular comparatives are "mejor" for "bueno" and "peor" for malo" which can be used as comparative superlatives also by adding the definite article or possessive article, so that, "nuestro peor error fue casarnos" is "our worst mistake was to get married."

The absolute superlative is normally formed by modifying the adjective by adding -ísimo, -ísima, -ísimos or -ísimas, depending on the gender or number. So that "¡Los chihuahuas son perros pequeñísimos!" is "Chihuahuas are such tiny dogs!" Some irregular superlatives are "máximo" for "grande", "pésimo" for "malo", "ínfimo" for "bajo", "óptimo" for "bueno", "acérrimo" for "acre", "paupérrimo" for "pobre", "celebérrimo" for "célebre".

Note the difference between comparative superlative and absolute superlative: Ella es la más bella → (she is the most beautiful); Ella es bellísima → (she is extremely beautiful).

Portuguese and Italian distinguish comparative superlative (superlativo relativo), and absolute superlative (superlativo absoluto/assoluto).

For the comparative superlative they use the words "mais" and "più" between the article and the adjective, like "most" in English.

For the absolute superlative they either use "muito"/"molto" and the adjective or modify the adjective by taking away the final vowel and adding issimo (singular masculine), issima (singular feminine), íssimos/issimi (plural masculine), or íssimas/issime (plural feminine). For example:

  • Aquele avião é velocíssimo/Quell'aereoplano è velocissimo → That airplane is very fast

There are some irregular forms for some words ending in "-re" and "-le" derivating from Latin words ending in "-er", and "-ilis" that have a superlative form similar to the Latin one. In the first case words lose the ending "-re" and they gain the endings errimo (singular masculine), errima (singular feminine), érrimos/errimi (plural masculine), or érrimas/errime (plural feminine); in the second case words lose the "-l"/"-le" ending and gain ílimo/illimo (singular masculine), ílima/illima (singular feminine), ílimos/illimi (plural masculine), or ílimas/illime (plural feminine), the irregular form for words ending in "-l"/"-le" is somehow rare and, in Italian but nor is Portuguese, it exists only in the archaic or literary language. For example: Latin was the language originally spoken in the region around Rome called Latium. ...

  • "Acre" (acer in Latin) which means acrid, becomes "acérrimo"/"acerrimo" ("acerrimus" in Latin).
  • Italian "simile" (similis in Latin) which means "similar", becomes "simillimo" ("simillimus" in Latin).
  • Portuguese "difícil" ("hard/difficult") and "fácil" ("easy") always become "dificílimo" and "facílimo".

Celtic languages

Scottish Gaelic: When comparing one entity to another in present or future tense, the adjective is changed by adding an e to the end and i before the final consonant(s) if the final vowel is broad. Then, the adjective is preceded by nas to say "more," and as to say "most." (The word na is used to mean than.) Adjectives that begin with f are lenited. Nas and as use different syntax constructions. For example: // Scottish Gaelic (Gàidhlig) is a member of the Goidelic branch of Celtic languages. ...

  • Tha mi nas àirde na mo pheathraichean. → I am taller than my sisters.
  • Is mi as àirde. → I am the tallest.

As in English, some forms are irregular, i.e. nas fheàrr (better), nas miosa (worse), etc.

In other tenses, nas is replaced by na bu and as by a bu, both of which lenite the adjective if possible. If the adjective begins with a vowel or an f followed by a vowel, the word bu is reduced to b'. For example: Lenition is a kind of consonant mutation that appears in many languages. ...

  • Bha mi na b' àirde na mo pheathraichean. → I was taller than my sisters.
  • B' e mi a b' àirde. → I was the tallest.

Welsh is similar to English in many respects. The ending -af is added onto regular adjectives in a similar manner to the English -est, and with (most) long words -mwyaf precedes it, as in the English most. Also, many of the commonest adjectives are irregular. Unlike English, however, when comparing just two things, the superlative must be used, e.g. of two people - John ydy'r talaf (John is the tallest). Welsh redirects here, and this article describes the Welsh language. ...

See also

In grammar the comparative is the form of an adjective or adverb which denotes the degree or grade by which a person, thing, or other entity has a property or quality greater or less in extent than that of another. ... Greatness is a concept that is heavily dependent on a persons perspective and biases. ...


  1. ^ "The best of one", Language Log, May 30, 2005

Comperative and Superlative

  Results from FactBites:
Highbeam Encyclopedia - Search Results for Superlative (1213 words)
SUPERLATIVE (DEGREE) Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language...
(n.) (An adjective or adverb that is in) the superlative...
Superlative is to be buried at the Woodditton Stud.
Online Etymology Dictionary (832 words)
An unusual case of a comparative formed from a superlative (the -m- is a superlative element; the word was formed on the analogy of foremost).
of ultimare "to be final, come to an end," from ultimus "last, final," superlative of *ulter "beyond" (see ultra).
The title generalissimo (1621) is from It., superlative of generale, from a sense development similar to the Fr.
  More results at FactBites »



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