Module 22 - Comparatives and Superlatives

Adjective Degrees - Overview

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.

Comparative Degree

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:


Case M./F. Neuter
Nominative pulchrior pulchrius
Genitive pulchrior-is pulchrior-is
Dative pulchrior-ī pulchrior-ī
Accusative pulchrior-em pulchrius
Ablative pulchrior-e pulchrior-e


Case M./F. Neuter
Nominative pulchrior-ēs pulchrior-a
Genitive pulchrior-um pulchrior-um
Dative pulchrior-ibus pulchrior-ibus
Accusative pulchrior-ēs pulchrior-a
Ablative pulchrior-ibus pulchrior-ibus

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:

Practice Opportunity 1

Form the comparative of the given adjective in the given gender, case, and number.

  1. pulcher, pulchra, pulchrum - neuter genitive plural

  2. ferox, ferocis - feminine accusative singular

  3. facilis, facile - masculine nominative plural

  4. celer, celeris, celere - neuter accusative plural

Comparison with quam and Ablative of Comparison

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:

Practice Opportunity 2

If a comparison is made with quam, rewrite the quam phrase as an ablative of comparison, and vice versa. Then translate.

  1. hostēs nostrī ferociorēs quam nōs erant.

  2. frātrēs dīcunt matrem nostram sapientiorem patre esse.

  3. mīlitibus victīs, iter longius proeliō fēcimus. (proelium, -ī, n. - “battle”)

Superlative Degree

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:

Superlative with quam

We can also use quam with a superlative to indicate “as [adjective] as possible”:

Practice Opportunity 3

Form the superlative of the given adjective in the given gender, case, and number.

  1. longus, longa, longum - neuter genitive plural

  2. ferox, ferocis - feminine ablative singular

  3. fortis, forte - masculine dative plural

Irregular Comparative and Superlative Adjectives

There are a number of adjective classes that form their comparative and superlative degrees irregularly.

Superlatives for -er and -lis Adjectives

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.

Irregular Comparatives and Superlatives

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.

Positive Comparative Superlative
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.


Case Neuter
Nominative plūs
Genitive plūris
Dative (no dative form)
Accusative plūs
Ablative plūre

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:


Case M./F. Neuter
Nominative plūrēs plūra
Genitive plūrium plūrium
Dative plūribus plūribus
Accusative plūrēs plūra
Ablative plūribus plūribus

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.

Practice Opportunity 4

Identify the degree of each adjective in the following sentences and translate.

  1. mater nostra cēnam maximam quam vīdimus parāvit.

  2. carmen novum eius pēius priōre est.

  3. puella cui rōsam dedī simillima mihi erat.

Adverb Degrees - Overview

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 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.

Irregular 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.

Positive Comparative Superlative
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”

Practice Opportunity 5

Identify the degree of each adverb in the following sentences and translate.

  1. cum ferōcius pugnārēmus, tamen victī sumus.

  2. rex epistulam celerrimē scripsit.

  3. illum magnopere amō. utinam mē amet!

  4. carmina haec facile didicistī.

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