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What Are Superlatives? (with Examples)

What Are Superlatives? (with Examples)

A superlative is a form of an adjective or an adverb used for comparison.

The superlative form of an adjective is used to show something has a quality to the greatest or least degree. The superlative form of an adverb is used to show something has performed an action to the greatest or least degree.

Examples of Superlatives

Here are some examples of superlatives (shaded):
  • Neville is tallest.
  • (tallest = superlative form of the adjective tall)
  • Mark listens most attentively of all the students.
  • (most attentively = superlative form of the adverb attentively)
  • The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not "Eureka!" but "That's funny." (Isaac Asimov, 1920-1992)
  • (most exciting = superlative form of the adjective exciting)
  • What we anticipate seldom occurs; what we least expected generally happens. (Benjamin Disraeli, 1804-1881)
  • (least expected = superlative form of the adverb little)
    (NB: The word little can be an adverb or an adjective.)
In general, the superlative form of an adjective or adverb can be formed by:
  • Adding the suffix -est if the word has one syllable, e.g., tallest.
  • Preceding with most (or least) if the word has more than one syllable.
There are several spelling rules to consider though. (See the table below.) There are also a few irregular ones, and some of these are commonly used adjectives and adverbs. For example:
  • The best defense against the atom bomb is not to be there when it goes off. (Anon from the US)
  • (best = superlative form of the adjective good)
  • Pearl is the worst behaved dolphin in the project's history.
  • (worst = superlative form of the adverb badly)

Superlatives Are Used to Compare More than Two Things

Superlatives are used to compare more than two things. When comparing just two things, you must use a comparative. For example:
  • The Mercedes is the fastest car in the race.
  • (fastest = superlative of fast)
    (The Mercedes is being compared against more than one other car.)
  • The Mercedes is faster than the McLaren this year.
  • (faster = comparative of fast)
    (The Mercedes is being compared against one other car.)
Beware

Don't Create a Double Superlative

Do not create a double superlative (e.g., by adding est and using most). This is a serious grammar mistake.
  • He was the most cleverest.
  • Mary was the least fastest.
Read more about forming comparatives and superlatives from adjectives.
Quick Test
 
 



Note

Learn About Comparitive and Superlatives at the Same Time

It makes sense to learn about comparatives and superlatives at the same time because they are both about making comparisons.

A comparative is known as the second or the middle degree of comparison (for adjectives and adverbs).
A superlative is known as the third or the highest degree of comparison (for adjectives and adverbs).

WordComparative
(or second degree of comparison)
Suplerlative
(or third degree of comparison)
When an adjective or an adverb ends with a single consonant, add "er" or "est":
big
(adjective)
biggerbiggest
soon
(adverb)
soonersoonest
When an adjective or an adverb ends "y", drop the "y" and add "ier" (for the comparative) and "iest" (for the superlative):
dry
(adjective)
drierdriest
silly
(adjective)
silliersilliest
early
(adverb)
earlierearliest
When an adjective or an adverb ends "e", drop the "e" and add "er" (for the comparative) and "est" (for the superlative):
pale
(adjective)
palerpalest
free
(adverb)
freerfreest
When an adjective or an adverb has more than one syllable (but beware exceptions like "silly" and "early"), place "more" in front (for the comparative) and "most" in front (for the superlative):
attractive
(adjective)
more attractivemost attractive
angrily
(adverb)
more angrilymost angrily
There are a few irregular ones too. You just have to learn these. It's worth it. Most of them are very common words:
good
(adjective)
betterbest
bad
(adjective)
worseworst
well
(adverb)
betterbest
badly
(adverb)
worseworst
little
(adverb and adjective)
lessleast
much
(adverb and adjective)
moremost
far
(adverb and adjective)
farther or furtherfarthest or furthest