Grammar

Superlatives: The Greatest Adjectives of All!

A superlative adjective is similar to a comparative adjective, but it takes a comparison one step farther. If we say that Frank is taller than Michael, we are using a comparative adjective. But if we say that Frank is the tallest boy in the whole school, then that’s a superlative.

We use superlative adjectives when we are comparing one thing against all others in a group of three or more. Superlatives are also used to show the greatest or least degree of a quality. They often end in “-est” for one-syllable adjectives (e.g., “longest”) or use “most” or “least” for longer adjectives (e.g., “most popular” and “least common”). In this article, we will look at how to use superlative adjectives correctly and go over some common mistakes. Since the English language is quirky, we also need to cover some exceptions to the rules.

Regular adjectives vs. comparative adjectives vs. superlatives

First, we will start with some regular, ordinary adjectives. Since the number of syllables in these adjectives is important, we will make two lists:

  • One-syllable adjectives: tall, short, long, cheap, big, small, large, fast, rare, loud, soft, fat, thin, hot, cold, nice, mean, grand, tight, loose, dark, light, old, young, great
  • Adjectives with more than one syllable: beautiful, expensive, prestigious, handsome, common, unusual, athletic, talented, skilled, intelligent, interesting, difficult, careful, elaborate, intricate, ordinary, extraordinary, exciting, amazing

When we make a comparative adjective, we take a regular adjective and add “-er” if the original adjective has just one syllable. If the original adjective has more than one syllable, we put the word “more” before the adjective. Our TextRanch blog has a complete guide to comparative adjectives here, but in case you missed that one, below are a couple of example sentences to show you what they look like:

This jar of tomato sauce is cheap, but you can get it cheaper at the dollar store.

This golf course is difficult, but the one at the Hilltop Country Club is more difficult.

Superlative adjectives follow a similar pattern. To transform a one-syllable adjective into a superlative, you add “-est” to the end of the word. Hence, “cheap” becomes “cheapest”, “fast” becomes “fastest”, and “small” becomes “smallest”.

For adjectives with two or more syllables, add either “most” (or sometimes “least”) before the adjective. Thus, “beautiful” can become either “most beautiful” or “least beautiful” and “interesting” can become either “most interesting” or “least interesting”.

Example sentences

The following example sentences include both types of superlative adjectives:

This pillow is my favorite because it’s the softest one.

Irina is the youngest of the three sisters.

These are the tightest jeans I can squeeze into.

Of all the golfers at the Hilltop Country Club, Jada is the most diligent.

David has the most elaborate plan to increase our company’s sales.

I think our business needs to go with the least expensive lawn care service.

If you still aren’t sure about the difference between a comparative adjective and a superlative, here’s an example of how a regular, comparative, and superlative adjective can be used together:

Joey is mean, but his older brothers are meaner. Their father is the meanest one in the whole family.

In the above example, “mean” is the regular adjective, “meaner” is the comparative, and “meanest” is the superlative.

Let’s look at a few more examples:

The temperatures are cold in November. It gets colder in December. January is the coldest month of the year.

Robins are common in this city. Sparrows are more common than robins. Pigeons are the most common birds of allthey’re all over the place!

Eddie’s new novel is interesting, but his previous book is more interesting. Of everything he has written, his screenplays are the most interesting.

Exceptions and quirks

Although most superlative adjectives follow the patterns described above, some of them do not. When you are using superlatives, there are three major exceptions/quirks that you need to watch out for.

Sometimes you need to double the final consonant. Let’s look at what happens when we try to form a superlative adjective from words such as “big”, “hot”, “fat”, and “sad”. The spellings “bigest”, “hotest”, “fatest”, and “sadest” are incorrect, as they would change the pronunciation of the vowels in these words.

Thus, when we see a one-syllable adjective that ends in a single consonant and is preceded by a single vowel, we double the final consonant before adding the “-est” to form the superlative.

My rich uncle has many big boats, but his new yacht is the biggest.

This whole movie is sad, but the saddest part was when the baby got sick and died.

When you’re at the store, please buy the thinnest pasta you can find.

Be on the lookout for two-syllable adjectives that end in “-y”. Earlier, we saw how to use “most” plus the original adjective to form a superlative when an adjective has two or more syllables. However, an important exception to this rule involves two-syllable adjectives that end in “-y” (e.g., “early”, “funny”, “lazy”, “busy”).

For adjectives like these, the “-y” is changed to “-i” before adding the comparative ending “-est”. Here are some examples to show you how this works:

The earliest tee time we could reserve at the Hilltop Country Club was at 9:30.

This is the funniest comedy show! I could not stop laughing.

My stepfather is the laziest man I ever knew. He has never had a job and he won’t do any work around the house.

Summer is our hotel’s busiest time of the year, so be sure to book your rooms well in advance.

Watch out for good, better, and best. These three adjectives are very common, yet they do not follow the rules at all! “Good” is the regular adjective. “Better” is the comparative form, while “best” is the superlative.

I am good at playing golf. Kenji is better than I am, and Mai is the best golfer in our family.

“This is a good essay,” my teacher told me. “But you can do better than this. It’s definitely not your best work.”

Common mistakes with superlative adjectives

At TextRanch, we occasionally see texts where a superlative adjective is not formed correctly. Below are some common mistakes, along with examples of both the incorrect and the correct forms.

Mistake #1: Using two superlative forms together (also known as double superlatives)

  • Incorrect: “Stairway to Heaven” is the most greatest song by Led Zeppelin.
  • Correct: “Stairway to Heaven” is the greatest song by Led Zeppelin.

Mistake #2: Not changing the “-y” to “-i” before adding “-est”

  • Incorrect: All of these suits are ugly, but the orange one is the uglyest.
  • Correct: All of these suits are ugly, but the orange one is the ugliest.

Mistake #3: Adding “-est” to adjectives with two or more syllables instead of using “most”

  • Incorrect: The Starry Night is Vincent van Gogh’s beautifulest painting.
  • Correct: The Starry Night is Vincent van Gogh’s most beautiful painting.

Mistake #4: Forgetting to double the final consonant of certain “-est” superlatives

  • Incorrect: The sales representative offered me the bigest discount.
  • Correct: The sales representative offered me the biggest discount.

Mistake #5: Using “More” or “Less” Instead of “Most” or “Least”

  • Incorrect: BTS is the more famous Korean boy band.
  • Correct: BTS is the most famous Korean boy band.

If you are using superlatives in your business email, academic paper, cover letter, or other type of text and you want to make sure everything is correct, click the blue box below. One of our TextRanch editors will check your writing and give you some feedback. Our TextRanch editors are the best!

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