In grammar the superlative of an adjective or adverb is the greatest 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.

Some prescriptive grammars hold that, 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 found, however, in writing and speech. In an offer for auction to the "highest bidder" in which only one bid were received, for example, no rule of English grammar would negate the sale. [ [ "The best of one"] , "Language Log", May 30, 2005]

Many ancient grammarians object to the use of the superlative or comparative with words such as "full," "complete," "unique" or "empty," which by definition already denote either a totality, an absence, or an absolute. However, such words are routinely and frequently qualified in contemporary speech and writing. This type of usage conveys more of a figurative than a literal meaning. For example, in the phrase "most complete selection of wines in the Midwest," "most complete" doesn't mean "closest to having all elements represented," it merely connotes a well-rounded, relatively extensive selection. Browsing in some of the best-known search-engines for "more complete" or "most complete" would establish the frequency of this usage by many millions of examples.

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" in the country."

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:
* (as a noun) an exaggerated mode of expression (usually of praise); "the critics lavished superlatives on it"
* (as an adjective) 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

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 fastThere 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:
*"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:

*"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:

*"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).

ee also



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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Superlative — Su per*la tive, n. 1. That which is highest or most eminent; the utmost degree. [1913 Webster] 2. (Gram.) (a) The superlative degree of adjectives and adverbs; also, a form or word by which the superlative degree is expressed; as, strongest,… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Superlative — Su per*la tive, a. [L. superlativus, fr. superlatus excessive, used as p. p. of superiorferre, but from a different root: cf. F. superlatif. See {Elate}, {Tolerate}.] 1. Lifted up to the highest degree; most eminent; surpassing all other;… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • superlative — [sə pʉr′lə tiv, so͞opʉr′lə tiv] adj. [ME < MFr superlatif < LL superlativus < L superlatus, excessive < super , above, beyond + latus, pp. of ferre, to BEAR1] 1. superior to or excelling all other or others; of the highest kind,… …   English World dictionary

  • superlative — (adj.) late 14c., from O.Fr. superlatif (13c.), from L.L. superlativus exaggerated, superlative, from L. superlatus exaggerated (used as pp. of superferre carry over or beyond ), from super beyond (see SUPER (Cf. super )) + lat carry, from *tlat …   Etymology dictionary

  • superlative — I adjective best, champion, chief, consummate, crowning, excellent, excessive, eximius, extreme, first rate, foremost, greatest, highest, immoderate, incomparable, inflated, inimitable, matchless, most eminent, nonpareil, optimus, paramount,… …   Law dictionary

  • superlative — adj *supreme, transcendent, surpassing, peerless, incomparable, preeminent Analogous words: *consummate, finished, accomplished: *splendid, glorious, sublime, superb …   New Dictionary of Synonyms

  • superlative — [adj] excellent, first class A 1*, accomplished, all time*, best, capital, consummate, crack, effusive, exaggerated, excessive, extreme, finished, gilt edge*, greatest, highest, hundred proof*, inflated, magnificent, matchless, of highest order* …   New thesaurus

  • superlative — ► ADJECTIVE 1) of the highest quality or degree. 2) Grammar (of an adjective or adverb) expressing the highest or a very high degree of a quality (e.g. bravest, most fiercely). Contrasted with POSITIVE(Cf. ↑positivity) and COMPARATIVE(Cf.… …   English terms dictionary

  • superlative — su|per|la|tive1 [su:ˈpə:lətıv, sju: US suˈpə:r ] adj [Date: 1300 1400; : Old French; Origin: superlatif, from Late Latin superlativus, from Latin superlatus, past participle of superferre to carry above, raise high ] 1.) excellent ▪ a superlative …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • superlative — 1 adjective 1 excellent: a superlative performance 2 a superlative adjective or adverb expresses the highest degree of a particular quality: The superlative form of good is best . compare comparative 1 (4) 2 noun 1 the superlative the superlative …   Longman dictionary of contemporary English

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