Superlatives allow writers to create sentences in which they emphasize the adverb or adjective. For example, when the ending “est” is used or “most” appears before the word, such as saying someone is the “most creative” or the funniest.”
Definition of Superlative
A superlative is the most extreme degree of an adjective or adverb. It is used when the writer wants to compare three or more things. The ending “est” is added to the end of the word, or the word “most” is used in front of the word, depending on the situation. Some examples are “most beautiful,” “strongest,” “weakest,” “hungriest,” and “most comfortable.”
There are three things that writers have to pay attention to when writing superlatives. They are the number agreement, the use of “est” or “most,” and irregular adjectives. The latter refers to the different ways that one might use adjectives and adverbs. These are the ones that don’t follow the normal rules. For instance:
- Little, less, least
- Good (or well), better, best
- Many, more, most
Most adjectives and adverbs are regular, though. These use either “est” at the end to create the superlative or “most” at the beginning. If the word has one or two syllables, “est” is used at the end. If there are three or more, then “more” should be used. There are a few exceptions, but this rule is helpful when trying to determine which to use.
Lastly, the superlative must be used in the correct situation. It should be used when there are three or more things to compare. For example, out of three students, the third is the “most creative.” But, if there were only two students, you’d say the second was “more creative,” not “most creative.”
Base and Comparative Adverbs and Adjectives
Base and comparative are the other two degrees of adverbs and adjectives. The first refers to the words as they are commonly used, for example, “creative” and “funny.” The comparative occurs when the writer is trying to compare two things. Then, the words “more creative” and “funnier” are used. Finally, the superlative makes them “most creative” and “funniest.”
Examples of Superlatives
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
The opening lines of this famous novel contain a good example of a superlative. The passage repetitively compares different experiences, creating a wide variety of examples to analyze. Consider these lines:
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light […]
In the first section of this quote, Dickens writes, “best of times, it was the worst of times.” These are two different superlatives that are used to skillfully describe the world Dicken is introducing the reader to.
Explore Charles Dickens’ poetry.
This sonnet is the first in a series of 154 that were eventually attributed to the Bard. It is also the first in the Fair Youth sequence, which ranges from ‘Sonnet 1’ to ‘Sonnet 126.’ The first lines of the poem read:
From fairest creatures we desire increase,
That thereby beauty’s rose might never die,
But as the riper should by time decease,
His tender heir might bear his memory;
The first line of the poem uses a superlative, “fairest.” He’s discussing the importance of having children, eventually leading up to his criticism of the Fair Youth for not doing so.
Read more of William Shakespeare’s poetry.
Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
The following lines come from the middle of Wuthering Heights, in a scene where Catherine has been asked to sing a “long interesting ballad.” When describing the moment, Brontë uses the following lines:
Catherine repeated the longest she could remember. The employment pleased both mightily. Linton would have another, and after that another, notwithstanding my strenuous objections; and so they went on until the clock struck twelve, and we heard Hareton in the court, returning for his dinner.
The superlative “longest” is used in the first sentence. Catherine is doing exactly as she asked and brought to mind the longest possible ballad she can remember.
Explore Emily Brontë’s poetry.
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
In the following lines, which can be found towards the beginning of the novel, Lord Henry is talking to Basil. He uses the following lines when describing his marriage:
I never know where my wife is, and my wife never knows what I am doing. When we meet—we do meet occasionally, when we dine out together, or go down to the Duke’s—we tell each other the most absurd stories with the most serious faces.
He uses the superlatives “most serious” and “most absurd” in this passage. They help emphasize the nature of his strange views on marriage.
Discover Oscar Wilde’s poetry.
Why Do Writers Use Superlatives?
Writers use superlatives when they want to stress an adverb or adjective to the extreme. By adding “est” or “most,” they’re ensuring that readers know that whatever they’re talking about is as far as it can go. It is the most beautiful, ugliest, strongest, foulest, fairest version of whatever the situation, person, or idea is. Superlatives are the best way in which one can compare three things effectively as well.
The furthest degree of an adjective or adverb.
They are adjectives or adverbs.
Comparatives compare two things while superlatives compare three or more.
Most comfortable, funniest, ugliest, happiest, most gullible, most auspicious, and most famous.
Writers use superlatives when they want to emphasize their description of something. It’s helpful when a writer wants to stress the intensity of an experience or sense.
Related Literary Terms
- Accumulation: a literary device that relates to a list of words or phrases that have similar, if not the same, meanings.
- Adynaton: an exaggeration that is stretched to the absolute extreme. The proffered scenario is impossible.
- Coherence: the properties of well-organized writing. This includes grammar, sentence structure, and plot elements.
- Context: the setting in which a story, poem, novel, play, or other literary work is situated.
- Elision: the removal of part of a word to shorten it. This might be an unstressed syllable, consonant, or letter from a word or phrase.
- Watch: Learn English Grammar – Superlative
- Listen: Comparatives and Superlatives
- Watch: How to Compare Things in English