Superlative Degree (Adjectives and Adverbs)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

superlative degree
Biggest is the superlative form of big. Greatest is the superlative form of great. Most is the superlative form of much or many. And best is the superlative form of good or well.

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The superlative is the form or degree of an adjective or adverb that indicates the most or the least of something.

Superlatives are either marked by the suffix -est (as in "the fastest bike") or identified by the word most or least ("the most difficult job"). Almost all one-syllable adjectives, along with some two-syllable adjectives, add -est to the base to form the superlative. In most adjectives of two or more syllables, the superlative is identified by the word most or least.

 Not all adjectives and adverbs have superlative forms.

After a superlative, in or of + a noun phrase can be used to indicate what is being compared (as in "the tallest building in the world" and "the best time of my life").

Exercises and Quizzes

Examples and Observations

  • "This is the saddest story I have ever heard."
    (Ford Maddox Ford, The Good Soldier, 1915)
  • "The [New York City] subway is a gift to any connoisseur of superlatives. It has the longest rides of any subway in the world, the biggest stations, the fastest trains, the most track, the most passengers, the most police officers. It also has the filthiest trains, the most bizarre graffiti, the noisiest wheels, the craziest passengers, the wildest crimes."
    (Paul Theroux, "Subterranean Gothic." Granta, 1984)
  • "[O]f all forms of tyranny, the least attractive and most vulgar is the tyranny of mere wealth."
    (Theodore Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt: An Autobiography, 1913)
  • Bart Simpson: This is the worst day of my life.
    Homer Simpson: The worst day of your life so far.
    (The Simpsons Movie, 2007)
  • "In one second, without any previous training or upbringing, he had become the wettest man in Worcestershire."​​ (P.G. Wodehouse, Very Good, Jeeves, 1930)
  • "I responded in what I thought was the most truthful--or least untruthful--manner, by saying no."
    (James R. Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, explaining why he told Congress in March 2013 that the National Security Agency doesn't intentionally collect data on millions of Americans)
  • "To the man who loves art for its own sake, it is frequently in its least important and lowliest manifestations that the keenest pleasure is to be derived."
    (Arthur Conan Doyle)
  • "[T]he newspaper business, despite its many flaws, managed to do a lot of good. And it employed, in its newsrooms, the smartest, hardest-working, funniest, quirkiest, most cynical and at the same time idealistic group of borderline insane people I've ever known."
    (Dave Barry, I'll Mature When I'm Dead. Berkley, 2010)
  • "It is turning out to be the most beautiful, most quiet, largest, most generous, sky-vaulted summer I've ever seen or known--inordinately blue, with greener leaves and taller trees than I can remember, and the sound of the lawnmowers all over this valley is a sound I could hum to forever." (Nicholson Baker, The Anthologist. Simon & Schuster, 2009)
  • "The greatest discovery of my generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitudes of mind." (William James)

    Double Comparatives and Superlatives

    "Speakers of vernacular dialects often use double comparatives and superlatives such as more higher and most fastest. Although such constructions may seem redundant or even illogical, in reality both standard and nonstandard varieties of all languages are replete with such constructions. In English the redundant comparative dates back to the 1500s. Prior to this, in Old and Middle English, suffixes, rather than a preceding more or most, almost always marked the comparative and superlative forms of adjectives and adverbs, regardless of word length. In the Early Modern English period . . . [double markings were commonly used to indicate special emphasis, and they do not appear to have been socially disfavored."​ ("comparative," The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 4th ed., 2000)

    Unusual Superlatives

    • "Make sure your gathering is the meatiest, cheesiest, feastiest ever with our platters, cold subs, salads, snacks, and desserts." (Firehouse Subs, Savannah, Georgia)
    • - "Another of Springfield’s belovedest citizens has been murdered." (Kent Brockman in The Simpsons)

    Pronunciation: soo-PUR-luh-tiv