What Is a Superlative Adjective? Meaning and Basic Rules

, M.A. English
Updated July 20, 2021
Curly Hair as Example Superlative Adjective
    Curly Hair as Example Superlative Adjective
    Qvasimodo / iStock / Getty Images Plus
    Used under Getty Images license

Are you unclear about what a superlative adjective is? It's an adjective that takes a comparison to the highest or lowest degree possible. Two types of adjectives are used to compare two or more nouns: comparative and superlative. Like all adjectives, comparative and superlative adjectives modify (describe) a noun or pronoun by giving additional information about its appearance or other qualities.

What Is a Superlative Adjective?

A superlative adjective is defined as a descriptive term used to express that a noun is at the most extreme level it can reach in a given scenario, whether that is in a positive direction or a negative direction. A superlative adjective would be used to describe something that is as good as is possible, as well as to describe something that is as bad as it can be.


Comparative vs. Superlative

The best way to illustrate what superlative adjectives are is to contrast them with comparative adjectives.

  • comparative adjective - describes a noun by comparing it to one or more items, in terms of whether it is better or worse. (My mother's cooking is better than mine.)
  • superlative adjective - describes a noun as representing the upper or lower limit in terms of quality (My mother's cooking is the best in the family.)

There is a difference between saying that a person's cooking is "better than" someone else's and saying that it is the "best" of a defined population. Above, the superlative adjective "best" is used to compare "my mother's cooking" to everyone else in the family. As "best" describes the highest degree of difference possible, hers is the most delicious.


Positive or Negative Extreme

Superlative adjectives are not always positive. They also work in the opposite direction too. The highest degree could also be that someone's cooking is the worst in the family, representing an equal but opposite superlative adjective. When using a superlative adjective, the thing being described is always on one end of the spectrum, never in the middle of the pack.

Basic Rules: How to Form a Superlative Adjective

There are many examples of superlative adjectives in the English language. In general, superlative adjectives are formed by adding the suffix -est to an adjective. There are a few basic spelling rules to follow when forming a superlative adjective in this way.

  • one-syllable words - Add -est to the word, as with terms like strongest, tallest and fastest. Sometimes this will require you to double the final letter of the original adjective, as with the words biggest and saddest.
  • one- and two-syllable words ending in silent "e" - Add -st to the word, since the "e" is already in place. Note that doing this makes the "e" pronounced instead of silent. Examples include rarest, finest and sanest.
  • two-syllable words ending in "y" - Change the "y" to an "i" and add -est in words that have two syllables. Examples include silliest, funniest and craziest.
  • most other words - Instead of adding a suffix, most other words are made into a short adjective phrase by adding "most" or "least" before the adjective. For example, this includes phrases like most careful, most congenial, least restrictive, and least invasive.
  • irregular superlative adjectives - There are a few irregular superlatives. For example, bad becomes worst, good become best, little becomes least, many becomes most, and far becomes the farthest or furthest.

A Note About About Most and Least

Note that when you use the words "most" and "least" in tandem with other adjectives, those two words technically become adverbs in your sentence. An adverb describes a verb, adverb or adjective. Paired with the adjective, this word combination forms an adjective phrase. So, the superlative adjective phrase "least upset" functions as an adjective in the sentence, but can be further broken down into two parts of speech: the head adjective (upset) and the adverb that describes it (least).

One Superlative at a Time

In both writing and speech, it's important to remember to use only one superlative form at a time. For example, you can either say something is the "most funny" or "the funniest," but you cannot correctly say that something is the "most funniest." Use either most or least or the -est suffix as described in the rules above, but do not combine them. Doing so is a grammatical error.


Comparing Adjectives: Changing Forms

To better understand what superlative adjectives are and how they are formed, review the following chart. It shows how a regular adjective can be transformed into comparative and superlative forms

gulliblemore gulliblemost gullible
powerfulless powerfulleast powerful
famousmore famousmost famous
upsetless upsetleast upset

Example Sentences Featuring Superlatives

Now that you've reviewed how a basic adjective can be transformed to a superlative, it's important to consider how they are used in sentences. Each superlative adjective from the table above is featured in one of the following sentences.

  • He is the oldest one at the country club.
  • That is the thinnest dog in the kennel.
  • You have the curliest hair I have ever seen.
  • She was the nicest person there.
  • Those are the simplest instructions.
  • Mary is the most gullible person I know.
  • That brand is the least powerful for getting out stains.
  • Pavarotti was the most famous singer of the past century.
  • I was the least upset of the team after the loss.

Enrich Your Description

Once you know how to form superlative adjectives, you'll be able to enrich your writing by making comparisons among three or more things. Taking the time to review the rules for how to form and use superlative adjectives will make you more confident in your writing and speech. Now that you have mastered the art of correctly using superlative adjectives, take the time to explore some examples of comparative adjectives. Once you do that, you'll know how to correctly describe all kinds of comparisons.