What Is a Superlative Adjective? | Definition & Examples

Adjectives updated on  January 10, 2024 4 min read
“Superlative” means embodying a quality to the greatest extent. A superlative adjective denotes the highest or lowest degree of a given attribute (e.g., “fastest,” “least trusted”) in a comparison of three or more things.

Most superlative adjectives are formed either by adding the suffix “-est” (e.g., “youngest”) or by adding “most” (e.g., “most famous”) or “least” (e.g., “least popular”) before the base adjective. The specific form depends primarily on the number of syllables in the base adjective.

Examples: Superlative adjectives
They say it’s always darkest before dawn.
She chose the costliest dress from the collection.
This is the most exquisite bird I’ve ever seen.

What is a superlative adjective?

A superlative adjective describes a noun or pronoun as having a particular characteristic to the greatest or least degree in comparison with multiple other people or things.

All superlative adjectives make comparisons, whether implicitly (e.g., “Pelé was the greatest of all time”) or explicitly (e.g., “Amanda is the tallest of the three sisters”).

Examples: Superlative adjectives
Ada Lovelace is one of the most inspiring figures in computer programming history.
The nation with the fastest train in commercial operation is China.
The farthest galaxy is billions of lightyears from us.

Sentences containing superlative adjectives typically follow a specific structure: noun/pronoun (subject) + verb + “the” + superlative adjective (e.g., “You are the best”). Other sentences may be more complex. For example, they may include a noun modified by the superlative adjective or a prepositional phrase.

Examples: How to use superlative adjectives
We designed the most innovative app.
They built the tallest skyscraper in the city.

Note
The QuillBot Grammar Checker can help you use superlative adjectives correctly in sentences.

How are superlative adjectives formed?

Most superlative adjectives are formed following simple patterns based on syllable count. There are also irregular adjectives that don’t follow any particular pattern and must be memorized.

Typically, one- and two-syllable adjectives can be changed to the superlative form by adding the suffix “-est.” For adjectives with three or more syllables (and some adjectives with two) add “most” before the base adjective.

Syllable count

Superlative form

Examples

One-syllable Add “-est” lean; leanest green; greenest grand; grandest
Two syllables Add “-est” clever; cleverest narrow; narrowest handsome; handsomest
Three or more syllables Add “most” before the adjective adventurous; most adventurous curious; most curious spectacular; most spectacular

If an adjective has an “-e” ending, the superlative can be formed by adding “-st.” For most adjectives ending in “-y,” change the “-y” to “i” and add “-est.” For adjectives that end in a consonant-vowel-consonant pattern, double the final consonant and add “-est” to form the superlative.

Original ending

Superlative ending

Examples

“-e” Add “-st” brave; bravest large; largest wide; widest
“-y” Change “-y” to “i” and add “-est” lovely; loveliest spicy; spiciest noisy; noisiest
Consonant + vowel + consonant Double the final consonant and add “-est” hot; hottest red; reddest fit; fittest

Irregular superlative adjectives

Some adjectives are irregular (i.e., their comparative and superlative forms deviate from the standard patterns). The superlative form of an irregular adjective is not formed by adding the “-est” suffix or using “most” before the positive form of the adjective.

However, the superlative forms of these adjectives do use the definite article, “the” (e.g., “It was the furthest thing from my mind”).

Positive

Comparative

Superlative

good better best
bad worse worst
far further/farther furthest/farthest
much/many more most
little less least

Comparative and superlative adjectives

The comparative and superlative degrees both express comparisons, but they differ in scope. Comparative adjectives are typically used to compare two distinct people or things. Superlative adjectives widen the field of comparison and emphasize that a person or thing stands out as superior or inferior to multiple others.

Comparative adjectives are followed by “than” and generally adhere to the following pattern: noun/pronoun (subject) + verb + comparative adjective + “than” + noun/pronoun (e.g., “I am faster than my brother”).

Examples: Comparative and superlative adjectives
The Burj Khalifa is taller than the Empire State Building.
The Burj Khalifa is the world’s tallest building.

Our pitbull is friendlier than the neighbor’s poodle.
Our pitbull is the friendliest dog in the neighborhood.

You seem more conscientious than your brother.
You are the most conscientious person I know.

Tip
In comparisons that involve a group, try rearranging sentences to see whether a superlative or comparative adjective better suits your meaning.

For example, “Rob is the best player” can also be expressed as “Rob is better than any other player.”

Using a comparative adjective in this instance emphasizes the idea that Rob has been compared against each other player individually.

Do you want to know more about commas, parts of speech, email, or other language topics? Check out some of our other language articles full of examples and quizzes.


US vs UK

Rhetoric

Verbs

Honor or honour

Onomatopoeia

Participles

Practise or practice

Palindrome

Intransitive verbs

Color or colour

Anachronism

Simple past tense

Toward or towards

Portmanteau

Regular verbs

Behaviour or behavior

Paradox

Past progressive


Frequently asked questions about superlative adjectives

What is the difference between a superlative adjective and a comparative adjective?

Superlative adjectives express the highest degree of a certain quality in a comparison of three or more things (e.g., the superlative form of “fast” is “fastest”).

Comparative adjectives express that one thing embodies a quality more than another in a comparison of two things (e.g., the comparative form of “fast” is “faster”).

What is the comparative degree?

The comparative degree is a grammatical form used to compare two people or things and indicate that one has a higher degree of a certain quality.

A comparative adjective can also be called an adjective in the comparative degree.

What is the superlative form of the adjective “bad”?

“Bad” is an example of an adjective with an irregular superlative form: “worst.”

Note that the superlative “worst” is often confused with the similar-sounding comparative form, “worse.”

What is the superlative form of the adjective “light”?

The superlative form of the adjective “light” is “lightest.” “Light” is an example of a regular one-syllable adjective that is transformed into a superlative by simply adding “-est.”

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Magedah Shabo

Magedah is an author, editor, and educator who has empowered thousands of students to become better writers.

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