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In grammar, the superlative of an adjective or adverb is in the greatest form of the adjective or adverb. This indicates that something has at least one feature to a greater degree than anything it is being compared to in a given context.

Some 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, since in a strictly literal sense, something cannot be more or less unique or empty to a greater or lesser degree. 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 the Internet with some of the best known search engines for "more complete" or "most complete" establishes the frequency of this usage with millions of examples. Nonetheless, frequency of usage is an extremely debatable criterion for correctness. In formal writing, particularly scientific or legal, incorrect use of superlatives is a grave error.

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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 another 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 rank objects among other objects, as comparatives and superlatives do.

Example of elative: "she is most beautiful" [= "she is very beautiful"]
Example of superlative: "she is [the] most beautiful [of all the women here tonight]"

Simply put; the word 'superlative' is defined as

  • (a noun) an exaggerated mode of expression (usually of praise): "the critics lavished superlatives on it";
  • (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, because in the grammars of the 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'aeroplano 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:

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

Celtic languages

Scottish Gaelic: When comparing one entity to another in the present or the 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 most common 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).

See also


Wiktionary

Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

WOTD - 11 March 2008    
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Contents

English

Etymology

From Middle English superlatyf from Old French superlatif from Late Latin superlātīvus from Latin superlātus (extravagant, of hyperbole), past participle of superfero (carry over) from super (above) + fero (bear, carry).

Pronunciation

  • (RP) IPA: /suːˈpɜː.lə.tɪv/, /sjuːˈpɜː.lə.tɪv/, SAMPA: /su:"p3:(r).l@.tIv/
  • (US) IPA: /suːˈpɝː.lə.tɪv/, /sjuːˈpɝː.lə.tɪv/
  •  Audio (US)help, file

Noun

Singular
superlative

Plural
superlatives

superlative (plural superlatives)

  1. The highest extent or degree of something.
  2. (grammar) The form of an adjective that expresses which of more than two items has the highest degree of the quality expressed by the adjective; in English, formed by appending "-est" to the end of the adjective (for some short adjectives only) or putting "most" before it.
    The superlative of "big" is "biggest"
  3. (informal) An adjective used to praise something exceptional.
    Lincoln is amazing, wonderful, fantastic, and many other superlatives I can’t think of right now!

Synonyms

Translations

Adjective

superlative (not comparable)

Positive
superlative

Comparative
not comparable

Superlative
none (absolute)

  1. Exceptionally good; of the highest quality; superb.
  2. (grammar) Of or relating to a superlative.

Translations

See also


Italian

Adjective

superlative f.

  1. Feminine plural form of superlativo

Simple English

A superlative, in grammar, is an adjective describing a noun that is the best example of a given quality. In other words, a superlative describes a noun that has more of some quality than any other.

Some examples:

  • the coldest day (i.e. the best example of a cold day, or the day that is colder than all the others)
  • the craziest man
  • the fluffiest cloud

In English, most superlatives can be formed by adding -EST to an existing adjective, like the examples above. (For adjectives that end in "-y", like "crazy", you often change the "y" to an "i" before you add the -EST on the end.)

Some adjectives have irregular superlative forms, which do not follow the rules, such as far ("farthest").

Other adjectives have no superlative form at all, and the superlative is made simply by adding the adverb "most" before the adjective. For instance, you do not say "funnest," or "interestingest". Instead, you say "most fun," and "most interesting." This way of making the superlative is used for almost all adjectives ending in "ing" (like "interesting", "fascinating", "disgusting" or "appealing".)








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