Many Latin adjectives follow a very regular pattern of declension making them easy to recognize and translate for the Latin student. However, as with most things Latin, there are a number of common adjectives that have irregular forms in their comparative and superlative forms.
These adjective and their respective comparative and superlative forms are so common that the Latin student is well advised to memorize them and practice using them in translation from Latin to English and English to Latin.
Recall that comparative adjectives literally compare two persons or objects on some quality. For example:
Caesar est longior. (Caesar is taller.)
tells us that Caesar is taller than someone or something else. We know that this comparison is with only one other person or object because like English, Latin comparative adjectives can only compare two things.
Recall, also, that superlative adjectives compare three or more persons or objects on some quality. For example:
Caesar est longissimus. (Caesar is tallest.)
tells us that Caesar is the tallest among three or more persons or objects.
The –ior and –issimus endings tell us that we are dealing with comparatives and superlatives. However, sometimes the base of the word can change as in the following seven irregular comparative and superlative adjectives.
Seven Irregular Comparative and Superlative Latin Adjectives
Below are seven of the most common irregular comparative and superlative adjectives in Latin. The positive forms of the adjectives should be familiar to students learning the comparative and superlative forms. Pay close attention to how the familiar –ior/–ius ending remains for the comparative form even though the stem of the word changes from positive to comparative and from positive to superlative.
Bonus –a –um (positive), Melior –ius (comparative), Optimus –a –um (superlative)
Magnus –a –um, Maior –ius, Maximus –a –um
Malus –a –um, Peior –ius, Pessimus –a –um
Multus –a –um, (––) Plus, Plurimus –a –um
Parvus –a –um, Minor (Minus), Minimus –a –um
(Prae, Pro), Prior, –ius Primus –a –um
Superus –a –um, Superior –ius, Summus –a –um (or Supremus –a –um)
Notice that in all cases, the comparative form differs greatly from the positive form of the adjective and that the superlative form differs greatly from both the positive and the comparative forms. These irregular comparative adjectives give Latin students trouble during translation because of these irregular forms.
To complicate matters, notice that “plus" has no masculine and feminine form for the singular but does have a singular neuter form. In its plural forms, “plus" functions oddly as an adjective but also has irregular mixes of i-stem and consonant-stem forms. In its neuter singular form, “plus" functions as a neuter noun which is often coupled with the Genitive of the Whole grammatical construction. For more on “plus," consult your Latin text to discover a whole world of irregularity.
Notice that the comparative form of “parvus" is “minor" for the masculine and feminine genders but its form is “minus" for the neuter gender. This is an irregularity within an irregularity that must be memorized.
Notice, also, that the superlative of “superus" can be either “summus –a –um" or “supremus –a –um); again, another irregularity within an irregularity. Latin students must be prepared to encounter both possibilities when translating from Latin to English.
Finally, notice that the word “prae" or “pro," both indeclinable prepositions, oddly have comparative and superlative forms which themselves are fully declinable.
Other than these seven common irregular comparative adjectives, there are less common irregular comparative adjective that your Latin text may or may not cover. For example:
Exterus –a –um, Exterior –ius, Extremus –a –um
Inferus –a –um, Inferior –ius, Infimus –a –um
are two examples of somewhat uncommon but irregular comparative adjective. Your Latin text or program may or may not cover all of these irregular adjectives but almost all programs cover the seven listed above because they are so common and vital to translation of text from Latin to English.