In the classical language of Latin, one can construct a fantastically complex and abstract sentence with incredible efficiency as long as one knows the rules. The problem is that there are a billion rules. The formation of comparative and superlative adjectives from their positive root stems is a perfect example of this tendancy. Since Latin is an inflectional language, a great deal of redundant information is built into its adjectives, and this information carries through in complicated ways to the comparative and superlative words. Latin simply does not have an equivalent to the easy-as-pat English method of slapping on an -er or -est / prefacing with a 'more' or 'most'.

So about what information must one worry? First, there's the ever present standard of gender. We're really softies concerning this in English; in nearly every other language of the Indo-European branch some sort of distinction is made in the adjective over the gender of the word, and Latin's no exception. The comparative and superlative adjective forms contain information about whether the word that they modify is masculine, feminine, or masculine. Going a step further, Latin adjectives decline just like the nouns they modify, so they contain information about Nominative, Genitive, Dative, Accusative, or Ablative case. The adjectives also distinguish between singular and plural nouns. Finally, adjectives do not follow their own rules of declension, even in irregular form, but instead stick to patterns already established for nouns called declensions (of which there are four main ones).

Sound confusing? Just wait. But despite what seems like a needless amount of complexity, the end result is worth it. The Latin comparative or superlative adjective will tell you a very, very great deal about the context and nature of the noun it modifies, making its relationship immediately clear regardless of its position in the sentence. You could quite literally tear the adjective away from the noun it modifies and thrust it to the other end of the sentence (which in Latin sentences could be several lines away) and still know exactly what noun it modifies. The system is a fantastic model of language redundancy and conservation of information.


So what exactly is the comparative? The comparative in Latin is used to give an impression of "more". For example, "this cloak is more expensive," "control the more annoying boy," "the better horses will be faster." The Latin equivalents of these would be, "haec paenula carior est," "puerem molestiorem contine," and "maiores equi celerior erunt."

The first, absolutely vital step of forming comparative adjectives is to identify the case, gender, and number of the noun the adjective modifies. For example, the noun puellarum ("of the girls") is Genitive, feminine, plural. Regibus ("for or from the king") is either Dative, masculine, plural or Ablative, masculine, plural (one will find many times that the Dative and Ablative cases are rather indistinguishable from each other lexically) . If one is very lucky, one will end up with something like tempus which is simply Nominative, neuter, singular ("the time"). Whatever noun one must modify, remember its case, gender, and number!

Once one has that, one needs to take one's positive adjective and produce its comparative singular form. A little segue into adjectives here, for a moment's explaination. The Latin adjective in dictionary form is always supplied with as many gender endings as it has. For example, the adjective for "small" is supplied as parvus, -a, -um, indicating that the Nominative adjective form for masculine nouns is parvus, for feminine nouns is parva, and for neuter nouns is parvum. This changes drastically the way in which the adjective will decline, so for example the Accusative plural forms of the three are parvos, parvas, and parva. These reprsent the 2nd, 1st, and 2nd declensions, respectively. There is a 3rd, 4th, even 5th and 6th declension as well, but these are not represented in the positive degrees of adjectives.

I gave an adjective with three endings, one for each gender, however not all adjectives are like this. Parvus is called a "three termination" adjective. There are also "two termination" adjectives, such as brevis, breve ("short"), in which the the first termination is used for either masculine or feminine nouns, and the third is reserved only for neuter nouns. Finally, there are "one termination" adjectives of only one ending, such as ingens, ingentis ("huge"). The second word does not represent the neuter form of the adjective, rather it represents the singular Genitive, whether masculine, feminine, or neuter. Yes, that sounds confusing, but it's important to know. "One termination" adjectives are not all that rare, and their stem form in any other case but Nominative singular very, very often changes. As one can see for this adjective, ingens may be the Nominative singular form, but for all other cases and numbers ingent- is the root to which endings are attatched. This strange inflectional property of Latin, by the way, is shared by nearly all inflectional Indo-European languages, and is unique to this language family alone. No other language family in the world has such a complicated and mutational method of forming inflections.

So how does this all relate to forming comparative? Quite simply, one must look at the positive form of the adjective, find its stem, and attatch the ending '-ior'. So, for the adjective molestus, -a, -um (annoying), for example, one can see that the stem must be molest- (hmmm, fancy that!) and thus the comparative form is molestior. For an adjective in which the stem changes, like ingens, ingentis, the stem is taken from the second form, NOT the first!. The stem of ingens is not ingen-, but ingent-. Chop that genitive singular ending right off the end and run with your longer form. Thus, the comparative of ingens, ingentis is ingentior. Incidentally, I would hope one noticed the similarity between the Latin ending -ior and the English ending -er. This is not a coincidence. They share the same origins.

One more thing to watch out for. Certain "three termination" adjectives actually do change stem in their feminine and neuter forms. These are almost entirely isolated to adjecties ending in -er, such as pulcher, pulchra, pulchrum ("beautiful"). When forming the comparative, use the feminine/neuter stem, so the comparative form of pulcher is pulchrior. Do not assume, however, that this use applies to the superlative. There are other concerns one must address that will be presented shortly.

Gender and Declension in Comparative Form
Alright, so now one has the Nominative, singular comparative adjective. What to do with it? Well, first, there's a little matter of gender to attend to. The adjective in one's hands is a 3rd declension adjective. It can be used to modify either a masculine or feminine noun. If that's the gender of the noun one is modifying, wonderful! If the noun is actually neuter, however, a little fiddling is in order. Replace the -ior ending with -ius. This the Nominative, neuter, singular ending.

So, issues of gender have been resolved, now onto declension. I hope one has remembered the case and number of the noun one was modifying, because here it comes into play. One will need to decline the adjective to match in case and number with the noun it modifies. The declension goes thus:


     Sg.      Pl.
Nom| -ior  | -iores
Gen| -ioris| -iorum
Dat| -iori | -ioribus
Acc| -iorem| -iores
Abl| -iore | -ioribus


      Sg.     Pl.
Nom| -ius  | -iora
Gen| -ioris| -iorum
Dat| -iori | -ioribus
Acc| -ius  | -iora
Abl| -iore | -ioribus
Basically, attach the third declension ending to the end of the adjective if it's masculine/feminine, or replace the ending with -ior and then attach the the third declension if it's neuter. You're done!


Phew! We've waded through the quagmire of comparative forms. Ready for another? Ok, here goes.

The superlative in Latin gives a sense of 'most'. It can also mean 'very', basically to give special stress to the adjective in question. For example, "the temple was very quiet," "I only deal with the most reputable merchants," "the finest wine is very pleasing to me." In Latin these go, "templum tacitissimum fuit," "mercatoribus honestissimis solis negotior," "vinum elegantissimum mihi placitissimum est."

Once again, one will be dealing with stems, but this time there are a few new things to take into consideration. Superlative adjectives have two irregular forms for which one must watch, however first one must deal with the regular stems. The superlative ending attached to the stem is -issimus, -a, -um. Do those three endings look familiar? They should, they match up with masculine, feminine, and neuter respectively. These are all first and second declension, so none of the silly "masculine/femine" business of compartive to worry about. Superlative makes up for it with some other complexities, however. If one's stem ends in -l, such as for the adjective difficil, difficile, which has a stem of difficil-, one will need to change the ending. One will double the 'l' and add -imus, making the superlative form difficillimus, -a, -um. It is not difficilissimus, -a, -um, this is incorrect. Likewise for stems ending in '-r', double the 'r' and add -imus. So, for example, the superlative of celer, celeris, celere is celerrimus, -a, -um. A word of warning: for stem changing "three termination" adjectives like pulcher, pulchra, pulchrum, you must use the masculine form as the stem and not the feminine/neuter like in comparitive. Thus, pulcherrimus, -a, -um is the superlative form, not pulchrissimus, -a, -um.

Declension in Comparative Form
Tired of all that rigamarole? Don't worry, you're nearly done! Since we've already covered the three terminations of superlative forms, there's no need to worry about gender. Just pick the form that matches your noun's. Once that's done, the declension goes thus:

    Sg.   Pl.
Nom| -us| -i
Gen| -i | -orum
Dat| -o | -is
Acc| -um| -os
Abl| -o | -is

     Sg.  Pl.
Nom| -a | -ae
Gen| -ae| -arum
Dat| -ae| -is
Acc| -am| -as
Abl| -á | -is

    Sg.   Pl.
Nom| -um| -a
Gen| -i | -orum
Dat| -o | -is
Acc| -um| -a
Abl| -o | -is

Irregular Adjectives

Like any other natural language on the face of the Earth, Latin has some irregularities. Just like English forms the comparitive and superlative as "good, better, best," so Latin has certain words which have different forms in comparative and superlative, such as bonus, maior, maximus and malus, peior, pessimus. These must simply be memorized. Here are the most common ones

Positive| Comparative| Superlative
bonus   | melior     | optimus
exter   | exterior   | extremus
frugi   | frugalior  | frugalissimus
magnus  | maior      | maximus
malus   | peior      | pessimus
multus  | plus       | plurimus
nequam  | nequior    | nequissimus
posterus| posterior  | postremus
superus | superior   | supremus
novus   | recentior  | novissimus

Thanks to Mortice and Velox for corrections and suggestions!

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