Superlatives make the greatest adjectives! They are the best words for comparisons of three or more! If you want to put a noun at the top of its category, superlative adjectives are the most helpful words you can use!
To be the best English speaker, you have to know how to use superlative adjectives. In this guide, we explain all the basics about superlative adjectives, including spelling rules, when to use most, and even an explanation of comparative versus superlative adjectives. But before we get into the details, let’s take a closer look at the question, “What are superlative adjectives?”
What are superlative adjectives?
Superlative adjectives are a form adjectives take when comparing three or more things, such as “the tallest student in class” or “the most popular game.” Generally, superlatives are used to show something is in the top of its category, with no others having more of that adjective’s trait.
Just be careful of an adjective’s meaning because some words can’t be compared; for example, something cannot be the most unique because all unique things are equally unique.
How to use superlative adjectives in a sentence
Superlative adjectives modify nouns just like other adjectives. Most of the time they come directly before the noun they modify.
The tallest student in class gets the books from the top shelf.
Have you noticed that most superlative adjectives use the definite article the? That’s because only one thing can be at the top of its category, so we use the to show we’re talking about one specific thing.
With 590 million followers, Cristiano Ronaldo is the most popular person on Instagram.
Aryana is my best friend this week.
Mozart’s most famous composition is Eine Kleine Nachtmusik.
Furthermore, you do not need the if you are comparing something with itself, such as explaining when a person or thing is at its highest level of something.
In the Northern Hemisphere, temperatures are hottest in July.
I am hungriest after watching ads for pizza.
Incidentally, in these constructions, the superlative adjective is usually separated from the noun it modifies.
When to use most with superlative adjectives
One key to knowing how to use superlative adjectives is understanding when to use the suffix –est and when to use the adverb most. In general, short adjectives use –est and long ones use most, but the details get a little more precise.
Specifically, use the word most for:
- All adjectives with three or more syllables
- Adjectives with two syllables except those that end in –er, –ow, –le, or –y
Typically, if an adjective has two or more syllables, it uses most. However, the exceptions to this rule are two-syllable adjectives with the endings –er, –ow, –le, or –y. If a two-syllable adjective has one of those endings, it requires special spelling rules with –est, explained below.
While we’re on the subject, you can also use least in place of most to show the thing at the bottom of a group. You can use least in front of any adjective without changing the spelling, no matter how many syllables it has.
5 spelling rules for forming superlative adjectives
1 One-syllable adjectives
If an adjective has only one syllable, most of the time you can simply add the suffix –est to the end of the word without changing the spelling.
cool -> coolest
small -> smallest
Be careful with one-syllable adjectives that end in –e or a consonant-vowel-consonant. They have slightly different spelling requirements.
2 One-syllable adjectives ending in –e
You don’t need to add another e if a one-syllable adjective already ends in -e. Just add –st to the end.
cute -> cutest
free -> freest
3 One-syllable adjectives ending in consonant-vowel-consonant
If the last three letters of a one-syllable adjective follow a consonant-vowel-consonant format, like big or thin, you have to double the last consonant and then add –est.
big -> biggest
thin -> thinnest
4 One- or two-syllable adjectives ending in –y
Adjectives with either one or two syllables have special spelling rules if they end in -y. To make the superlative, first change the y into an i and then add –est.
dry -> driest
likely -> likeliest
5 Two-syllable adjectives ending in –er, –ow, or –le
Two-syllable adjectives that end in -er, -ow, or -le don’t use the adverb most like other long superlative adjectives. Instead, if an adjective with two syllables ends in –er (like bitter) or –ow (like narrow), add –est at the end without changing the spelling (bitterest or narrowest). Two-syllable adjectives that end in –le just take –st; you don’t need a second e.
clever -> cleverest
shallow -> shallowest
simple -> simplest
Irregular superlative adjectives
Like other word classes, some adjectives are irregular and don’t follow the “regular” rules. Take a look at these irregular superlative adjectives so you know their proper usage.
|Standard form||Comparative form|
|far||farthest or furthest|
|fun||funnest or most fun|
To clear up the debate about funnest vs. most fun, both are actually acceptable in English. However, most modern English speakers prefer most fun over funnest.
The constructions of farthest and furthest are a little more complicated. If you’re having trouble, refer to our guide on farther vs. further; even though the article discusses the comparative form, the same ideas apply to the superlative form.
Comparative vs. superlative adjectives
In grammar, superlative adjectives are usually paired with comparative adjectives because of their similarities: Both are used in comparisons and have similar suffixes (-er and –est) or helper adverbs (more and most). Moreover, both follow many of the same spelling rules, such as changing a y to an i before adding the suffix.
Let’s end the confusion about comparative versus superlative adjectives right now with these two rules:
- If you’re comparing only two things, use comparative adjectives.
- If you’re comparing three or more things, including everything in a group, use superlative adjectives.
Just look at the use of both comparative and superlative adjectives in this example:
I am stronger than my brother, but the strongest person in the family is grandma!
Superlative adjectives FAQs
What is a superlative adjective?
Superlative adjectives are a form adjectives take when comparing three or more things, such as “the tallest student in class” or “the most popular game.” Generally, superlatives are used to show something is in the top of its category, with no others having more of an adjective’s trait.
What are some examples of superlative adjectives?
Some common examples of superlative adjectives include:
- most important
- most confident
How is a superlative adjective different from a comparative adjective?
The difference between comparative adjectives and superlative adjectives is the number of things in the comparison. For comparing only two things, use comparative adjectives. For comparing three or more things, including everything in a category, use superlative adjectives.