Superlative adjectives are used to describe an object which is at the upper or lower limit of a quality (the tallest, the smallest, the fastest, the highest). They are used in sentences where a subject is compared to a group of objects.
Noun (subject) + verb + the + superlative adjective + noun (object).
The group that is being compared with can be omitted if it is clear from the context (final example below).
- My house is the largest one in our neighborhood.
- This is the smallest box I’ve ever seen.
- Your dog ran the fastest of any dog in the race.
- We all threw our rocks at the same time. My rock flew the highest. (“of all the rocks” is understood)
Are you unclear about just what is a superlative adjective? It’s an adjective that takes a comparison to the highest degree. There are two types of adjectives that are used when comparing two or more nouns: comparative adjectives and superlative adjectives. Like all adjectives, comparative and superlative adjectives modify, or describe, a noun or pronoun by giving additional information about its appearance or other qualities.
While a comparative adjective describes the difference between two items, a superlative adjective compares three or more nouns. For example:
- My mother’s cooking is the best in the family.
In this sentence, the superlative adjective best compares my mother’s cooking to everyone else in the family. As it describes the highest degree of difference, hers is the most delicious. The highest degree could also be that her cooking is the worst, 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.
How to Form a Superlative Adjective
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 in strongest, tallest, and fastest. Sometimes this will require you to double the final letter of the original adjective, as in 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. For example, rarest, finest and sanest.
- Two-syllable words ending in the letter y: Change the “y” to an “i” and add -est. For example, silliest, funniest, craziest.
- All other two-syllable words and words with additional syllables: Instead of adding a suffix, these words are made into a short adjective phrase by adding either most or least before the adjective. For example, most careful, most congenial, least restrictive, least invasive.
The best way to answer the question what is a superlative adjective is to look at how a regular adjective is transformed into both a comparative adjective and a superlative adjective. Consider these examples:
- old, older, oldest
- thin, thinner, thinnest
- curly, curlier, curliest
- nice, nicer, nicest
- simple, simpler, simplest
- gullible, more gullible, most gullible
- powerful, less powerful, least powerful
- famous, more famous, most famous
- upset, less upset, least upset
Now take a look at each of those superlative adjectives in action in a sentence:
- 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.
Note that when you use the words most and least in tandem with other adjectives, most and least technically become adverbs in your sentence. Remember that an adverb describes a verb, adverb or an adjective. So the superlative adjective phrase least upset functions like an adjective in the sentence, but can be further broken down into two parts of speech: the main adjective and the adverb that describes it.