Translating Latin: Comparative Adjectives
Speakers and writers often employ adjectives in sentences to characterize, modify or describe a noun in more detail. This use of adjectives provides more information to a listener or reader so that he/she can better understand a message. Both English and Latin employ three types of comparison adjectives to indicate when a comparison is being made. In both languages, the forms of the adjective or phrase changes to show when a speakers or writer is making a comparison.
There are three types of comparison adjectives. The positive form simply places a quality onto its subject. The comparative form literally compares the quality between two things. Finally, the superlative form indicates the highest form of a quality among three or more things. Of these three types of adjectives of comparison, the positive form is most common. Often, a linking verb between a subject and an adjective indicates the use of the positive comparison.
English Positive Comparative Adjectives
The positive form of English comparative adjectives indicates a quality of the adjective’s subject. Often, the adjective is describing what its subject was, is or will be. For example:
The man is tall.
The table is short.
The woman is intelligent.
The fruit is bitter.
Notice that the adjectives “tall,” “short,” “intelligent,” and “bitter” are only indicating that their subjects have that particular quality. In addition, notice the use of the linking verb “is” in all of the sentences. Of course, any linking verb may be employed here (such as “was” or “will be”) to indicate when the quality was, is, or will be associated with the subject. For example:
The man was tall.
The table was short.
The woman will be intelligent.
The fruit will be bitter.
In fact, any linking verb or verb phrase may be used from any of English’s six tenses to indicate when the subject had, has or will have the quality indicated by the adjective. For example:
The man is tall. (present)
The man was tall. (simple past)
The man will be tall. (future)
The man was tall. (present perfect)
The man had been tall (past perfect)
The man will have been tall. (future perfect)
Latin Positive Comparative Adjectives
Latin employs positive comparative adjectives to make comparisons just as English does. Like English, Latin sometimes uses a linking verb to associate the quality implied by the adjective to a subject. Of course, Latin also uses inflections to not only indicate the type of comparison being made but its use in a sentence (i.e. to which word the comparison is directed). Similarly to English, the positive form of comparative adjectives is the most common.
The positive form of Latin positive adjectives is formed much like English; it uses a linking verb to connect a quality to a subject. For example:
Vir est longus (The man is tall)
Fructus est acer. (The fruit is bitter)
Like English, a positive comparative adjective can be linked with any linking verb. For example:
Vir erat longus (The man was tall)
Vir erit longus (The man will be tall)
Just like any Latin adjective, it must agree with its subject in case, number, and gender. Remember that this does not mean it must have the same form. If we changed the subject of one of the subjects about to “nauta,” we must be certain that the adjective agrees in case, number, and gender only. For example,
Nauta est longus (The sailor is tall).
Although “nauta” has the feminine form of the first declension, it is, in fact, a masculine noun and, therefore, needs the masculine adjective “longus” not “longa.”
Latin and English positive comparative adjectives function similarly, so grammatically, they provide little trouble to students of Latin. Remember, of course, that all adjectives must agree with the noun they modify in case, number, and gender but not necessarily form. Memorization of the noun’s gender is necessary to properly accompany it with the adjective that modifies it. However, by the time students get around to learning comparatives, this concept has already been learned and rarely becomes an obstacle to proper Latin grammar.