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The most obvious superlatives to learners of Italian are when we describe something as really really beautiful, really really big, really really happy, or really really nice. (I think you get the picture.)
But when we start hanging out with Italian grammar, we realize that there are two main types of superlatives, the “really really” being one of them.
The other one is called a relative superlative.
We’ll start with the one we’re most familiar with – the absolute superlative.
The absolute superlative
Here’s the set up.
Take an adjective, any adjective (well, almost) and add one of four possible endings to it and drop the final letter to transform it into something “really really.”
It would best be defined as: really, very, or so (as in so pretty or so skinny).
These four endings are:
— -ssimo (singular, masculine)
— -ssima (singular, feminine)
— -ssimi (plural, masculine)
— -ssime (plural, feminine)
Here are some adjectives we could use to describe concrete things like how someone looks or personality traits
— Bello – Nice/handsome
— Simpatico – Nice
— Intelligente – Smart
— Poco – Little
— Molto – A lot
— Male – Bad
— Bene – Good
— Semplice – Simple
— Facile – Easy
— Difficile – Difficult
All of the endings of those adjectives are masculine and singular.
Have no idea what I’m talking about? Read this post.
Like always, the adjectives need to match whatever you’re talking about in number and gender. So if what you’re talking about is plural and feminine, then your “really really” adjective better end in an -e. (With some exceptions, of course.)
Examples so you can see the magic at work
— Bello = Sei bellissimo. – You are really good-looking.
— Simpatico = Perché le ragazze sono simpaticissime? – Why are the girls so nice?
— Intelligente = I professori della mia scuola sono intelligentissimi. – The professors of my school are really smart.
— Poco = Ho letto pochissimo del libro Guerra e Pace. – I read very little of the book War and Peace.
— Molto = Abbiamo mangiato moltissimo iera sera da Giulia. – We ate a lot of food last night at Giulia’s house.
— Male = Mi sento malissimo oggi. – I’m feeling really terrible today.
— Bene = Jovanotti canta benissimo. – Jovanotti sings really really well.
— Semplice = Sei una ragazza semplicissima. – You are a really really simple girl.
[Want to hear a funny story about a person getting a compliment in Italy that they’re simple? Go here.]
— Facile = Non sarà facilissima, ma possiamo vincere. [source] – It will not be very easy, but we can win.
— Difficile = I miei compiti sono difficilissimi. – My homework is really really difficult.
HOWEVER, as always, here are the exceptions that you knew were coming.
Irregularities with the absolute superlative
There are some adjectives that already have the “very, really, so” attached to them.
These are adjectives that can also be used interchangeably with others in certain situations.
Typically, you would use this irregular form if what you’re speaking about is immaterial, like an idea, a thought or a feeling.
— Ottimo – very good –> Replaces buonissimo
— Pessimo – very bad –> Replaces cattivissimo
— Massimo – very big –> Replaces grandissimo
— Minimo – very small –> Replaces piccolissimo
— Sommo – very high –> Replaces altissimo
— Infimo – very low –> Replaces bassissimo
Even more irregularities with the absolute superlative
At some point, it may seem to you that the irregularities outweigh the regularities in any language.
This is probably true.
It’s best to make peace with that now.
There are some adjectives that don’t deal with the -ssimo nonsense. They wanted their own ending and they chose -errimo.
— Acre – acerrimo; Bitter – Really bitter
— Integro – integerrimo; Righteous/honest – Really righteous/honest
— Celebre – celeberrimo; Famous – Really famous
— Celere – celerrimo; Fast/rapid – Really fast/rapid
Misero – miserrimo; Miserable, wretched – Really miserable, wretched
— Salubre – saluberrimo; Healthy – Really healthy
— Aspro – asperrimo; Sour – Really sour
— Tetro – teterrimo; Gloomy – Really gloomy
— *Pigro – pigerrimo; Lazy – really lazy
*This form is really oudated, although you might encounter it while reading. The spoken form is almost always pigrissimo.
The relative superlative
The relative superlative is slightly more complicated only because it involves comparisons, meaning that something has now become the highest or lowest of a certain category.
As in, Jennifer Lawrence is the most awkward and coolest actress out of all of the other actresses in Hollywood.
If you like formulas, here’s one formula for how the words live together:
— definite article = il, la, i, le
— più = more
— meno = less
— di = of
FORMULA = Definite article + noun + più/meno OR adjective + di/che/tra + whatever else you’re talking about
See the formula in action
— Sara è la più brava della classe. – Sarah is the most capable of the class.
— Sara è la meno brava della classe. – Sarah is the least capable of the class.
— La notte è più fredda del giorno. – The night is coldest in the day.
— La notte è meno calda del giorno! [source] – The night is the least hot of the day!
— Quest’albero è il più verde di tutti gli alberi. – This tree is the greenest of all of the trees.
— Quest’albero è il meno verde di tutti gli alberi. – This tree is the least green of all of the trees.
— Mia madre è la più simpatica di tutti gli altri. – My mom is the nicest of all of the others.
— Mia madre è la meno simpatica di tutti gli altri. – My mom is the least nice of all of the others.
— Questa barca è la più grande di tutte le barche. – This boat is the biggest of all of the boats.
— Questa barca è la più piccola di tutte le barche. – This boat is the smallest of all of the boats.
[Notice the subjunctive mood here]
— La canzone più bella che abbia mai sentito. – The most beautiful song that I’ve ever heard.
— Quelli sono i vestiti meno cari che lei abbia trovato. – Those are the least expensive dresses that she found.
With the relative superlative, you can also use adjectives like:
— meglio (spoken language only) – best
— migliore (standard use) – best
— peggio (spoken language only) – worst
— peggiore (standard use) – worst
— maggiore – greatest
— minore – least*
Note from editor Stefania – *But not in the expression “when you least expect it” which in Italian would be “quando MENO te lo aspetti”.
Questions? Drop ’em in the comments below!
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