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English Superlatives Posted by on Jan 3, 2019 in English Grammar, English Language, English Vocabulary

Pictured: The Grand Canyon. But, really, it’s the grandest canyon, don’t you think?

Photo courtesy of Pixabay, CCO

In English, if you want to describe something, you use an adjective. There essentially are three types of adjectives – simple, comparative, and superlative. The most basic examples would be big, bigger, biggest. I ate a big sandwich, my sister ate a bigger sandwich, but my brother ate the biggest sandwich. In this case, bigger is an adjective which compares itself to the first simple example. However, biggest is superior to the other two examples.

Since the biggest is best, this blog is about superlatives.

Let’s review the ways we form superlatives.

  1. Single syllable adjectives: add -est to the adjective

brief/briefest, dark/darkest, great/greatest, sweet/sweetest

  1. Adjectives ending in e: add -st to the adjective

brave/bravest, large/largest, loose/loosest

  1. Adjectives ending in y: remove the y, add -iest

happy/happiest, healthy/healthiest, lazy/laziest

  1. Adjectives ending in a vowel and consonant combination: double the final consonant, then add -est

dim/dimmest, hot/hottest, thin/thinnest,

  1. Two or more syllable adjectives: add most

admirable/ most admirable, durable/most durable, excitable/most excitable

However, this is American English that we’re talking about, so nothing is ever simple. You can follow all the rules that you want, but we Americans use superlatives like dogs eat kibble. The competitive nature of many Americans produces a need to make everything better, bigger, greater, grander than anyone or anything else. Every effort must be made to outdo and outperform whatever came before.

Have you ever heard of The Guinness World Records? It is a book which serves as the international authority on achievements in almost any category that you could name. The world’s largest pizza, the world’s longest fingernails, and the world’s largest tea party are just some of the world records that individuals and organizations compete for. And while not all of those who seek a world record are American, many are. To be a world record holder elevates your status (at least in your own mind) and gets your name in print. You are superlative in some distinct way!

Therefore, in English, you will find more synonyms for superlative than maybe any other language. Some examples include

  • Magnificent
  • Outstanding
  • Unsurpassed
  • Tremendous
  • Incomparable
  • Unparalleled
  • Stupendous
  • Preeminent
  • Peerless
  • Unrivaled
  • Ultimate
  • Supreme

Americans have redefined the superlative by regularly adding superlatives to superlatives. Take any one of the words above and turn it into an adverb by adding the ending -ly. Then add the next word above or below it. It is one thing to be outstanding at something but imagine being magnificently outstanding!

You may also hear some Americans add super or way to many adjectives of praise or degree of expression. “My mom is super cool!” “That dog is way too cute!” It is an exaggeration, of course. An exaggerated superlative is called hyperbole, which is something Americans are very good at. Trust me. I am stupendously great at it.

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