Comparatives and Superlatives

Comparative adjectives are used to compare one noun to another noun. For example, this flower is redder than that flower. In Old English, the comparative is made by adding 'r' between the adjective's stem and its suffix and it is always declined weak. For example, 'Ure hige sceal ðe heardra ðe ure mægen lytlaþ - our courage must be harder as our might lessens'.

Ure
Possessive
Pronoun
hige
Subject
Noun
sceal
Verb
 
ðe
Demonstrative
Pronoun
heardra
Comparative
Adjective
ðe
Relative
Pronoun
ure
Possessive
Pronoun
mægen
Subject
Noun
lytlaþ
Verb
 

Superlative adjectives are used to compare one noun to a group. For example, this flower is the reddest flower. The superlative is made by adding '-ost' or, in some cases, '-st'. For example, 'he god wære hehst ond halgost - he was the highest and holiest god'.

He
Subject
Pronoun
god
Direct
Object
wære
Verb
 
hehst
Superlative
Adjective
ond
Conjunction
 
halgost
Superlative
Adjective

The Old English endings for comparatives and superlatives are relatively similar to modern English so you shouldn't have trouble differentiating between the two. For example, compare 'wise', 'wisra' and 'wisost' with the modern English 'wise', 'wiser' and 'wisest'.

Nom Comp Super
halig hailgra haligost
wise wisra wisost
heard heardra heardost
æðele æðelra æðelost
niwe niwra niwost

Several common adjectives undergo 'i-mutation' in the comparative and superlative, and have '-est' instead of '-ost' as the superlative suffix. The rules around i-mutation will be covered in more detail in the next module, but for now notice that the vowel in the stem changes with 'ea' becoming 'ie', 'eo' becoming 'i', and 'a' becoming 'e'.

Nom Comp Super
heah hiera hiehst
eald ieldra ieldest
geong gingra gingest
lang lengra lengest
strang strengra strengest

There are some adjectives which are just irregular and need to be learned. These are, unfortunately, the most commonly used adjectives but you will notice that the adjectives that are irregular in Old English are the ones that are irregular in modern English. For example, little, less, least; good, better, best; and bad, worse, worst; are all recognisable in the declensions below.

Nom Comp Super
god betera betest
lytel læssa læst
micel mara mæst
yfel wiersa wierst

Comparatives and superlatives decline just like regular adjectives. Comparative adjectives always decline weak, while superlative adjectives decline weak or strong depending on context. The inflectional suffix is added after the comparative or superlative suffix. For example, 'ieldran', 'hierran', 'halgostes', and 'wisostum'. Examine the sentence, he sende to Egipta wisoste witan - he sent for Egypt's wisest magicians.

He
Subject
Pronoun
sende
Verb
 
to
Preposition
 
Egipta
Possessive
Noun
wisoste
Superlative
Adjective
witan
Direct
Object

The important thing to remember about comparative adjectives is that they usually have a suffix containing 'r', while superlative adjectives have an suffix containing 'st'. You can practice comparatives and superlative adjectives below.

Return to Strong Adjectives Continue to Adjectives Overview

Test Your Declensions

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