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What Is a Superlative Adverb?

By A. Leverkuhn
Updated May 17, 2024
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A superlative adverb is a form of adverb that compares verb uses involving three or more parties. It is a specific example of a broader superlative form, which is a comparison of three or more items. When only two items are being compared, an alternate form called the comparative form is used.

Like other kinds of adverbs, the superlative adverb typically attaches itself directly to a verb. For example, a standard comparative adverb phrase would be something like: “he laughed louder than she did.” Here, the word “louder” follows directly from the past tense verb, “laughed.” The same example in a superlative form would look like this: “Of all of the people in the movie theater, he laughed loudest.”

When using a superlative adverb, the speaker or writer may or may not provide indications of how many parties are being compared. In the above example, the reader or listener does not know from context how many people were in the movie theater, except that he or she can be sure there were more than two people present. In some cases, the speaker or writer may provide additional context, for example, in a statement like this: “Among the five of them, he laughed loudest.”

Another important note on the superlative adverb is that in some English-speaking language communities, it’s common for speakers to inject the article “the” in between the verb form and the superlative adverb. For the above example, speaking this way would produce a sentence like the following: “Of all of the people in the movie theater, he laughed the loudest.” According to many experts, the additional article is not grammatically necessary, but is, in many cases, a way to deal with some of the consonants at the ends of the verbs and the beginnings of the adverbs that might otherwise cause difficulty in pronunciation.

While some superlative adverbs are in the form of a single word, others require a superlative adverb phrase. For example, an English speaker could say: “Out of all of them, he ran fastest.” To the ears of many English speakers, though, a different version might sound a little better: “Out of all of them, he ran the most quickly.” Where the adverbial form of, “quick,” is used, the adverb phrase form is often preferred over the single word form, “quickest.”

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