double superlative (grammar)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

double superlative
A double superlative in William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, Act 3, scene 2.

Definition

In English grammar, the double superlative is the use of both most and the suffix -est to indicate the superlative form of an adjective (for example, "my most biggest fear" and "the most unfriendliest teacher").

Although many examples of the double superlative can be found in MIddle English and early Modern English, today it's generally regarded as a nonstandard construction or (in prescriptive terms) a grammatical error.

Occasionally, however, the double superlative is still used in present-day English to provide emphasis or rhetorical force. In such cases, says linguist Kate Burridge, the double superlative is "the linguistic equivalent of a trumpet blast. It signals this information is worth paying attention to. Of course, we should never overdo linguistic fanfares" (Blooming English, 2004).

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:

Examples and Observations

  • "Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who's the most baddest angry young man of all?"
    (Donald Barthelme, "Before the Mirror." Sixty Stories. G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1982)

     
  • "Suddenly a revelation hit Marty like a thunderclap. He slapped his head with the palm of his hand. 'Well, if I'm not the most dumbest, slab-sided, cream-sucking, thick-headed cigar-store dummy in six states."
    (Thom Nicholson, Ricochet. Signet, 2007)
     
  • "Nabo told me de absolutely most funniest story this morning. I nearly spoiled myself with delight."
    (Queen in Las Meninas by Lynn Nottage, in Crumbs From the Table of Joy, and Other Plays. Theatre Communications Group, 2004)

     
  • "'Also,' I said, unable to control the momentum of how right I was, 'it's freezing cold outside on Easter Sunday and every year I just stand there with my teeth clacking, and singing outside in a dress in the freezing cold is the most stupidest thing I can think of.'

    "You can't say 'most stupidest.' Stupidest is not a word, and even if it were, it implies most."
    (Haven Kimmel, A Girl Named Zippy. Doubleday, 2001)

     
  • "Just at the turn to Hawkshead is an old-fashioned house, and at the gate of the carriage drive was the most funniest old lady, large black cap, spectacles, apron, ringlets, a tall new rake much higher than herself and apparently no legs: she had stepped out of a fairy-tale."
    (Beatrix Potter, The Journal of Beatrix Potter From 1881-1897. F. Warne, 1966)
     
  • "Well! of all the artful and designing orphans that ever I see, Oliver, you are one of the most bare-facedest."
    (Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist, 1828)
     
  • "While I may scape,
    I will preserve myself: and am bethought
    To take the basest and most poorest shape,
    That ever penury, in contempt of man,
    Brought near to beast."
    (Edgar in Act Two, scene 3, of William Shakespeare's King Lear, 1608)
     
  • The Proscription Against Double Superlatives
    - "Standard English no longer permits expressions such as most unkindest, where the superlative is marked by the preceding most as well as the -est inflection. In C16 there was no constraint on their use, and Shakespeare uses them in several of his plays to underscore a dramatic judgment. The use of most highest in religious discourse is similarly rhetorical and was exempted by some C18 grammarians (notably, Lowth, Bishop of London) from the general censure of double superlatives. Grammarians can certainly argue that one or other superlative marker is redundant, and in measured prose one of them would be edited out."
    (Pam Peters, The Cambridge Guide to English Usage. Cambridge University Press, 2004)

    - "In profane authors there are also many instances of the use of the double superlative. Sir Thomas More used the expression, 'most basest'; Ben Jonson that of, 'most ancientest'; John Lilly (of the time of Queen Elizabeth) that of, 'most brightest'; and Shakespeare, 'most boldest, most unkindest, most heaviest.'"
    ("On the Language of Uneducated People," The Saturday Magazine, August 24, 1844)
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    Nordquist, Richard. "double superlative (grammar)." ThoughtCo, Feb. 24, 2016, thoughtco.com/double-superlative-grammar-1690476. Nordquist, Richard. (2016, February 24). double superlative (grammar). Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/double-superlative-grammar-1690476 Nordquist, Richard. "double superlative (grammar)." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/double-superlative-grammar-1690476 (accessed May 24, 2018).