Spanish Help: How to Form and Use the Absolute Superlative

Page content

When Someone or Something is “Beyond Compare”

If you’ve studied the types of comparisons in the other articles in this channel, you’ve seen how to build from a simple attribution or description to a superlative. Here are four new sentences that show just how to progress from the positive degree to the comparative to the superlative:

Mi hermana es inteligente. My sister is smart.

Mi hermana es más inteligente que nuestra vecina. My sister is smarter than our neighbor.

Nuestra tía es la más inteligente de las tres. Our aunt is the smartest of the three.

But what if Einstein moved in down the street? There wouldn’t be much point in having IQ tests, most likely. English does not have any non-colloquial or slangy ways of dealing with this, other than the rather dry adverbial expressions such as “extremely smart” or saying that “Einstein is incomparably smart.”

The interesting thing about the history of Spanish in this regard is that prior to the 15th century, Spanish didn’t have any way of doing this either. For some reason, the absolute superlative which had existed in Latin, it’s mother tongue, had been forgotten. But the Italians had not forgotten it, so to speak, as their language developed out of Latin. When Italian poetry began to become popular in the 1400s – changing Spanish poetry forever – it introduced the form that even English speakers sometimes use and certainly recognize: the suffix forms of -ísimo, -ísima, -ísimos and -ísimas. These suffixes are attached to the adjective forms used for simple attributions or descriptions. This means that the superlatives of the irregular comparatives revert to their simple, non-comparative forms. Mejor, meaning better (or best when forming the superlative), reverts to bueno; peor (worse or worst) reverts to mal -- to form the absolute superlative.

Structurally, sentences using the absolute superlative are like the sentences expressing simple attribution – because they are simply adjectives. Watch for gender and number agreement. English often resorts to slang for such expressions:

Estas pizzas son grandísimas. These pizzas are humongous.

La sopa está calientísima. The soup is hot as can be.

Ese jugador es altísimo. That player is way tall.

Esta sortija es carísima. This ring is outrageously expensive.

The absolute superlative is as playful in Spanish as the corresponding English forms are. It’s easy to form, but don’t over use it or you’ll come across like a teenager! Of course, if you are one… go for it.