Superlatives—those words that signify the highest degree or the utmost level of something — are often the best words to use when writing imagery or describing something with emotion. Impactful writing often uses superlatives to paint a vivid description.

What is a Superlative in Language?

First, let’s define a superlative

While the rules of superlatives are straightforward, how you use them can subtly influence your writing’s rhythm and tone. Being mindful of these choices allows writers to use superlatives with the most impact.


What is a superlative?

A superlative is a word or phrase that expresses the highest degree of something. It is often used to compare things within a group and identify the most extreme or superior one. Superlatives can be adjectives, adverbs, or even nouns. 

Forming a superlative often involves adding "-est" to an adjective or adverb (brightest, smallest), or prefacing it with "most" or "least" for longer words (most beautiful, least interesting).  However, some superlatives have irregular forms (best, worst) or are formed with the help of words like "very" or "extremely" (very intelligent, extremely talented).

Superlative Examples

  • The most beautiful sight 
  • The worst mistake
  • The smartest student

Superlatives Meaning

Comparative vs Superlative

Superlatives describe in a way that is definite and extreme. It’s important to understand this distinction from comparatives.

Comparatives, operating on the level of comparing two entities, are like the stepping stones to the pinnacle that superlatives represent. For instance, if we say, "John is taller than Jacob," we're in comparative territory. 

When we say, "John is the tallest among his peers," we are venturing into the realm of superlatives. This distinction is vital in literature, where the degree of comparison can dramatically alter the reader's perception and engagement with the text.

Language, with its idiosyncrasies and exceptions, presents irregular superlatives that don't follow standard formation rules—words like "best," "worst," and "farthest." These irregular superlatives are also something to be mindful of.

What is a Superlative Used For?

Why We Use Superlatives

Imagine that you are writing a story and you are trying to highlight the bravery of a character, the eeriness of a setting, or the intensity of an emotion. Superlatives are the literary tool you need to make these pieces memorable and provocative. 

Highlighting Unique Traits

Superlatives enable writers to spotlight unique characteristics of characters, locations, or objects in their stories. By describing someone as the "bravest" or an item as the "oldest," the authors provide readers with a clear sense of significance and uniqueness. 

Superlatives  ·  The Grammar Gameshow Episode 21

Enhancing Settings

When it comes to setting the scene, superlatives can turn an ordinary setting into an unforgettable landscape. Describing a place as the "most desolate" or the "brightest" not only paints a vivid picture but also sets an emotional tone. 

This technique allows readers to feel more deeply connected to the environment in which the story unfolds, enhancing the overall narrative immersion. A great example of this can be found in Shakespeare’s sonnet 1:

“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;”

Amplifying Emotional Impact

The use of superlatives is particularly effective in magnifying the emotional landscape of a narrative. Terms like the "coldest heart" or the "fiercest love" intensify the emotional stakes of the story, making the readers' experience more profound. This is often used in songwriting.

Comparatives and Superlatives in Songs

Superlatives give a writer the ability to emphasize emotional elements and imagery making stories and texts more immersive and engaging. Without them, writing can be susceptible to lackluster descriptions and emotionless tones.

Up Next

What is Imagery?

Like superlatives, writers often use imagery to create more impactful descriptions of people, places, and other story elements. Learn more about imagery and why its so important in our next article.

Up Next: What is Imagery? →
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  • Kyle DeGuzman graduated from San Diego State University with a Bachelor of Science in Television, Film, & New Media. He currently resides in Denver, Colorado spending his time writing, filmmaking, and traveling.

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