Memorizing Common but Irregular Latin Superlative Comparison of Adjectives

By John Garger

Although quite common, nine Latin adjectives have irregular superlative forms. Latin students are advised to learn these forms as early as possible to avoid mistranslations from Latin to English.

In the first article in this series, we saw seven irregular comparative and superlative Latin adjectives that are so common that memorization is not only warranted, it is recommended. The second article discussed how memorization of these seven irregular adjectives could be easily achieved because the irregular forms bear such a striking resemblance to modern English words. However, there is another set of nine adjectives that often prove difficult for Latin students.

Unlike the seven adjectives discussed in the previous two articles, the nine adjectives discussed here have irregular forms in the superlative only. The comparative adjectives are formed with the familiar –ior or –ius ending as expected. These nine irregular superlative adjectives fall into one of two categories. Read on to learn how to recognize and memorize these nine irregular superlatives.

Category 1: Six Irregular Superlative Latin Adjectives (–limus)

These six irregular adjectives are completely normal other than the fact that they have an –lis ending in their positive form. Their comparative forms are completely normal; it is only the superlative form that is irregular. Look at these six adjectives below:

Facilis –e (positive), Facilior –ius (comparative), Facillimus –a –um (superlative)

Difficilis –e, Difficilior –ius, Difficillimus –a –um

Similis –e, Similior –ius, Simillimus –a –um

Dissimilis –e, Dissimilior –ius, Dissimillimus –a –um

Gracilis –e, Gracilior –ius, Gracillimus –a –um

Humilis –e, Humilior –ius, Humillimus –a –um

Notice that in each of the six adjectives above, the comparative form has the familiar –ior or –ius ending as any other regular comparative Latin adjective. However, notice the strange –limus –a –um ending instead of the expected –issimus –a –um ending in their superlative form. This is what makes these superlative adjectives irregular. Luckily, the –limus ending bears some resemblance to the expected –issimus ending cluing the Latin student in that this is a superlative rather than a positive form adjective.

Category 2: Three Additional Irregular Superlative Latin Adjectives (–rimus)

Another category of irregular superlative adjectives also has normal positive and comparative forms. This category includes all adjectives with a masculine –er ending regardless of the declension to which the adjective belongs. These adjectives have an irregular –rimus –a –um ending in the superlative rather than the expected –issimus –a –um ending. Look at the three most common irregular adjectives from this category:

Liber –bera –berum (positive), Liberior –ius (comparative), Liberrimus –a –um (superlative)

Pulcher –chra –chrum, Pulchrior –ius, Pulcherrimus –a –um

Acer Acris Acre, Acrior Acrius, Acerrimus –a –um

Notice the irregular –rimus ending in the superlative forms above. Notice also that the –rimus ending has been added directly to the –er ending rather than to the word’s stem or base. The comparatives, however, have the usual and expected –ior or –ius ending.

Why Memorize?

Nine common irregular comparative adjectives are often the subject in most Latin programs. These adjectives are so common that they are worth memorizing because the Latin student is sure to encounter them often when translating text from Latin to English. The first category discussed above consists of six –lis ending adjectives which have a peculiar –limus rather than usual –issimus ending in their superlative form. The second category consists only of adjectives with a masculine –er ending and have the strange –rimus ending in the superlative.

Luckily, these strange –limus and –rimus endings bear some resemblance to the expected –issimus ending especially since the “L" in the first category and the “R" in the second category get doubled by nature of the “L" and “R" in the positive form of the adjective. Many Latin students find that by seeing the similarity in the –llimus and –rrimus endings with the expected –issimus ending that they will have little trouble recognizing that they have encountered a superlative comparative adjective that belongs to one of the two irregular categories above.


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