A superlative is a concept in grammar that describes the behavior of certain adjectives or adverbs that are used to imply something is the best or worst, or greatest or least. Alternately, the word can be used on its own to describe something as at its best possible point. A person could be a superlative writer, singer or juggler, and this would imply the person’s extreme and unsurpassed skill in these things.
Many forms of superlative adjectives end in iest or est. Consider the following examples:
- I had the greatest ice cream.
- That is the ugliest dog!
Superlatives are often highest value versions of words like most, as opposed, to more or best as contrasted to better. For example:
- That roller coaster was the most exciting one I have ever ridden.
- This is best day of my life.
There are certain adverbs that can be viewed as superlatives too. Words like completely, perfectly, fully, and many others may fall into this category. They may be appropriate or not depending on the circumstances in which they are used.
While superlatives can color language they can also make it exaggerative or redundant. A statement like: My stomach was completely empty after that flu is redundant. If something is empty, this implies that it has nothing in it so the use of a superlative, except to color language is questionable and perhaps repetitive. This tendency toward hyperbolic language with superlatives needs to be avoided in academic and many other formal writing settings, but it may be fine to use on a social media site, an email to a friend, or in conversation.
Another mistake people might make with superlatives is using them to compare two instead of three or more items. This especially occurs when people use "most" instead of "more," or "best" instead of "better." Other words that can be used to compare three things or more, with er or ier, and est or iest include examples like tall, taller, tallest or pretty, prettier, prettiest. Imagine comparing the attractiveness of two people. One would be prettier, while the other might be pretty, but neither person would be prettiest when they are compared together. It would take at least one more person being compared to make the superlative prettiest appropriate.
In the other definitions that swirl around the word superlative, use in writing can be colorful or exaggerative. Describing something at its highest level of achievement when it is not can annoy some readers. For instance, saying a five year old is the best baseball player in the history of time, or a superlative singer may be laughed off unless it is true, and that can damage writer credibility. On the other hand, superlatives that are accurate are a lovely way to give praise or recognition to the skills of others.