As we’ve discussed since the beginning of last semester, all adjectives have three aspects: gender, case, and number. To these three, we will now add a fourth: degree. The degree of the adjective indicates how much of that adjectival quality the noun described possesses, especially in relation to other nouns that also possess that quality. There are three degrees of adjectives:
Most of the adjectives with which you’ve interacted so far are in the positive degree. Now, we will learn how to form the comparative and superlative degrees and also take into account irregular formations.
The comparative degree indicates that the noun describes has more of the quality than another noun. As such, we can usually translate the comparative as the “-er” or “more” form of the adjective. Occasionally, we can also translate it as “rather [adjective]” or “too [adjective].”
To form the comparative degree of an adjective, get its stem according to the rules of its adjective type and add the endings -ior (M/F) and -ius (N) for the nominative forms. The oblique cases will then be based on the stem -ior-. Confusingly, each of these forms declines like a third declension noun rather than an adjective. Take a look at the declension chart below:
Note the forms that decline like third declension nouns rather than adjectives: we might expect, for example, an ending of -ia in the neuter nominative and accusative plural, but that is not the case (the ending is simply -a). Like any other adjective, however, comparatives must agree with the noun that they describe in gender, case, and number:
Form the comparative of the given adjective in the given gender, case, and number.
pulcher, pulchra, pulchrum - neuter genitive plural
ferox, ferocis - feminine accusative singular
facilis, facile - masculine nominative plural
celer, celeris, celere - neuter accusative plural
The comparative degree compares how much of an adjectival quality one noun possesses over another. For example, in the following English sentence:
we are comparing how handsome “this boy” is than “that boy.” Note my use of the word “than” here – this word indicates a comparison between two nouns. In Latin, we can use the word quam to indicate “than”, and the two nouns being compared must be in the same case:
When the noun described by the comparative adjective is in the nominative or accusative, we can put the noun being compared against it into the ablative case and omit the quam entirely. We will thus supply “than” in our translation, since it’s built into the ablative. This construction is called the ablative of comparison. Here are the sentences from above using the ablative of comparison rather than quam:
If a comparison is made with quam, rewrite the quam phrase as an ablative of comparison, and vice versa. Then translate.
hostēs nostrī ferociorēs quam nōs erant.
quam nōs > nōbīs; “Our enemies were fiercer than we.”
frātrēs dīcunt matrem nostram sapientiorem patre esse.
patre > quam patrem; “(My) brothers say that our mother is wiser than (our) father.”
mīlitibus victīs, iter longius proeliō fēcimus. (proelium, -ī, n. - “battle”)
After the soldiers were defeated, we made a journey longer than the battle.
The superlative degree of an adjective indicates that the noun described has the most of the adjectival quality of anyone that possesses that quality. So, we can usually translate it as the “-est” or “most” form of the adjective. Occasionally, we can translate the superlative as “very [adjective].”
To form the superlative degree of an adjective, add the endings -issimus, -issima, -issimum to the stem and decline it as a regular 2-1-2 adjective:
Again, like any other adjective, a superlative adjective must agree with its noun in gender, case, and number:
We can also use quam with a superlative to indicate “as [adjective] as possible”:
Form the superlative of the given adjective in the given gender, case, and number.
longus, longa, longum - neuter genitive plural
ferox, ferocis - feminine ablative singular
fortis, forte - masculine dative plural
There are a number of adjective classes that form their comparative and superlative degrees irregularly.
If the masculine nominative singular positive form of an adjective ends in -er (e.g., pulcher, pulchra, pulchrum; acer, acris, acre) or in -lis (e.g., facilis, -e, “easy”; similis, -e, “similar”), the superlative is not formed regularly.
For -er adjectives, you must take the entire masculine nominative singular positive form, duplicate the final consonant, and then add the endings -imus, -ima, -imum. For example:
pulcherrimum virum in urbe vīdimus. We saw the most handsome man in the city.
petitī sunt ab acerrimīs mīlitibus. They were attacked by the fiercest soldiers.
For -lis adjectives, you must take the stem of the adjective, duplicate the final -l, and then add -imus, -ima, -imum. For example:
puerī facillima carmina canēbant. The boys were singing the easiest songs.
amīcus meus simillimus mihi est. My friend is very similar to me.
Some adjectives have completely irregular changes from the positive to the comparative to the superlative degree and simply must be memorized. Here is a chart of irregular comparatives and superlatives and some notes on specific forms.
|bonus, -a, -um, “good”||melior, melius, “better”||optimus, -a, -um, “best”|
|magnus, -a, -um, “big”||maior, maius, “bigger”||maximus, -a, -um, “biggest”|
|malus, -a, -um, “bad”||pēior, pēius, “worse”||pessimus, -a, -um, “worst”|
|multus, -a, -um, “much; many”||*plūs, plūris, “more”||plūrimus, -a, -um, “most”|
|parvus, -a, -um, “small”||minor, minus, “smaller”||minimus, -a, -um, “smallest, least”|
|**(none)||prior, prius, “former, previous”||prīmus, -a, -um, “first”|
|superus, -a, -um, “upper”||superior, superius, “higher”||summus, -a, -um, “highest, furthest; top of”; suprēmus, -a, -um, “highest, last”|
* plūs, plūris is an odd form that acts like a third declension neuter noun in the singular but an irregular third declension adjective in the plural.
|Dative||(no dative form)|
Because the singular acts as a noun, it cannot modify another noun. As a result, this noun often takes a construction called the partitive genitive, a genitive noun that indicates what there is more of. For example:
Note that the plural forms are adjectives that must agree with a noun in gender, case, and number (e.g., plūrēs mīlitēs, “more soldiers”; plūrium carminum, “of more songs”), but the neuter nominative and accusative plural do not have the expected -ia ending; instead, the ending is simply -a.
** prior and prīmus do not have a positive degree, since their very definitions (“previous” and “first” respectively) necessarily are comparative and superlative in nature; something cannot be “previous” without being “previous” to something else.
Identify the degree of each adjective in the following sentences and translate.
mater nostra cēnam maximam quam vīdimus parāvit.
maximam - superlative; “Our mother prepared the biggest dinner that we have seen.”
carmen novum eius pēius priōre est.
novum - positive; pēius and priōre - comparative; “His new song is worse than the previous one.”
puella cui rōsam dedī simillima mihi erat.
simillima - superlative; “The girl to whom I gave a rose was most similar to me.”
Adverbs, like adjectives, have a degree: positive, comparative, or superlative. The same relationships apply: positive is the base degree of an adverb, comparative corresponds to “more”, and superlative corresponds to “most.” For example:
Some adverbs are indeclinable forms and have only positive degrees (e.g., nōn, “not”). However, we can also use adjectives to create adverbs in each of the three degrees.
To form the positive degree of an adverb from an adjective:
magister discipulōs sapienter docuit. The teacher taught the students wisely.
familia laetē cēnam parāvit. The family happily prepared dinner.
Note also that the neuter nom./acc. sg. form of an adjective can often be used as an adverb:
The comparative degree of an adjective-derived adverb almost always exactly corresponds to the neuter nom./acc. sg. comparative form of the adjective:
mīlitēs nostrī ferocius quam illī pugnāvērunt. Our soldiers fought more fiercely than those (soldiers).
ea carmina pulchrius quam is canit. She is singing the songs more beautifully than he (is).
The superlative degree of an adjective-derived adverb is formed by adding -ē to the superlative adjective stem:
sapientissimē dīxit. He spoke very wisely.
virī ferocissimē clamāvērunt. The men shouted most fiercely.
Note that comparative and superlative adverbs can also be used with quam to indicate “than” or “as [adverb] as possible” respectively, similar to its use with comparative and superlative adjectives. The ablative of comparison is not usually used with comparative adverbs.
While many adverbs formed from irregular adjectives follow the same rules of formation as above, some forms, including positive degree forms, are irregular. Check out the following chart, with irregular or unexpected forms in bold.
|bene, “well”||melius, “better”||optimē, “best”|
|multum, “much”||plūs, “more” (quantity)||plūrimum, “most, very much”|
|magnopere, “greatly”||magis, “more” (quality)||maximē, “most, especially”|
|parum, “little, not very much”||minus, “less” (quality)||minimē, “least”|
|(none)||prius, “before, earlier”||prīmō, “first (in time), at first”; prīmum, “first (in a series), in the first place”|
|diū, “for a long time”||diūtius, “longer”||diūtissimē, “longest, very long”|
Identify the degree of each adverb in the following sentences and translate.
cum ferōcius pugnārēmus, tamen victī sumus.
ferōcius - comparative; tamen - positive; “Although we fought more fiercely, nevertheless we were conquered.”
rex epistulam celerrimē scripsit.
celerrimē - superlative; “The king wrote the letter very/most quickly.”
illum magnopere amō. utinam mē amet!
magnopere - positive; “I love that man greatly. If only he would love me!”
carmina haec facile didicistī.
facile - positive; “You learned these songs easily.”