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  • The superlative adjective is distinguished from the positive degree of the adjective by the addition of a word or morpheme, as in the following examples.

    Positive degree: korrup corrupt.

    • Superlative degree, suffixing the morpheme -ste: korrup·ste corrupt·SUPL most corrupt.
    • Superlative degree, adding the word mees most: die mees korrupt·e the most corrupt·ATTR the most corrupt.
    Note that the superlative adjective is preceded by a definite article die the, and is then either followed by a noun, as in die mees korrupte administrasie the most corrupt administration, or is nominalised, as in jy is die mooi·ste you are the beautiful·SUPL you are the most beautiful.
  • The superlative is normally used to express the highest degree (maximative), as in korrupste most corrupt. However, it is also possible to express the opposite relation, that is, the lowest degree (minimative), as in the following examples.
    • Positive degree: gewild popular.

    • Minimative superlative degree: die mins gewild·e the least popular·ATTR the least popular.

    Some variety does occur in expressing the superlative (whether maximative or minimative) in that the degree word mins least can function on its own as marker of the superlative, especially if the adjective can be regarded as a nominalised form, as in nie die mins belangrike nie not the most important PTCL.NEG not the most important, or be marked itself by the superlative suffix -ste, as in mense wat die minste welsprekend is people that.REL the least eloquent are people who are the least eloquent.


The superlative forms part of the system of comparative relations displayed by gradable adjectives. The comparative relations are based on a complement (whether mentioned or not) which serves as a standard or a common referent.

Three degrees of comparison are possible, namely comparison in relation to (a) the same degree, (b) a higher degree, and (c) a lower degree. When the relevant adjective does not form part of a comparative relation, it is not marked in any way (either morphologically or syntactically) and represents the positive form of that adjective, as illustrated by the use of doeltreffend effective and haastig hurried in these two sentences:

Alle antidepressante is doeltreffend.
all antidepressants be.PRS effective
All antidepressants are effective.
Nou is ek haastig.
nou I be.PRS hurried
Now I am in a hurry.

However, when a comparative relation is expressed, this relation can be with an adjective of the same degree (that is, the equative degree), syntactically indicated by the use of either ewe equally or net so just as, as in these examples:

Alle antidepressante is ewe doeltreffend.
all antidepressants be.PRS equally effective
All antidepressants are equally effective.
Nou is ek net so haastig soos Zelda.
now be.PRS I just as hurried as Zelda

The equative degree can furthermore also be expressed negatively, as in

Die koloniste en die Khoi-Khoin was ewemin bereid om vir die kolonie te werk.
the colonists and the Khoi-Khoi be.PST equally.not prepared for.COMP for the colony to work
The colonists and the Khoi-Khoi were equally unwilling to work for the colony.

Parallel to the case of adjectives in which the relation compared reflected a higher degree comparative (or majorative), as in

Die aanbod is groter as die vraag.
the supply be.PRS greater PTCL.SIMT the demand
The supply is greater than the demand.

or a lower degree comparative (or minorative), as in

Taal en kultuur is minder belangrik as ekonomiese geleenthede.
language and culture be.PRS less important PTCL.SIMT economic opportunities
Language and culture are less important than economic opportunities.

the superlative reflects the highest degree comparative (or maximative), as in

'n Mens vind hom op die vreemd·ste en mees onverwags·e plekke.
a human.being finds him on the strange·SUPL and most unexpected·ATTR places
One finds him in the strangest and most unexpected places.

or the lowest degree comparative (or minimative), as in

een van die mins korrupte lande in Afrika
one of the least corrupt countries in Africa

A superlative may contain a complement which provides the standard for comparison. In the following example, the superlative complement has been bracketed:

Kilimandjaro is die hoog·ste [van alle alleenstaande berge ter wêreld].
Kilimanjaro be.PRS the high·SUPL [of all unattached mountains in.the world]
Kilimanjaro is the highest [of all unattached mountains in the world].

The superlative, like the comparative, can be formed in two ways, that is, by attaching a suffix (the morphological formation) to the adjective, or by putting a word in front of it (the periphrastic formation).

  • Morphologically, it can be formed by the addition of the superlative morpheme –ste following the adjective stem, as in vreemd·ste strange·SUPL strangest.
  • Periphrastically, it can be formed by the addition of the word mees most, as in mees intelligent·e most intelligent·ATTR most intelligent. The word mees most is itself the superlative corresponding to positive baie many/much and to the comparative meer more. Thus there is a priori a choice, although not every adjective allows either a morphological or a periphrastic superlative: intelligentste – mees intelligente most intelligent.

The periphrastic superlative is the only option with most pseudo-participles, i.e. ostensible participles which have no corresponding verbs, as in this example:

Die mees ontwaterde oorlewendes is eerste gehelp.
the most dehydrated survivors be.AUX.PASS.PST first help.PASS
Those survivors who were dehydrated most, were helped first.

The morphological option is not acceptable:

*Die ontwaterdste oorlewendes is eerste gehelp.
*the dehydratedest suvivors be.AUX.PASS.PST first help.PASS

In addition to pseudo-participles, there are other factors favouring either the morphological or the periphrastic superlative. Roughly speaking, the periphrastic superlative occurs more easily with words which contain more syllables, as in

Klaas het die mees ononderdrukbare humorsin.
Klaas have.AUX the most irrepressible humor.sense
Klaas has the most irrepressible sense of humor.

and not

*Klaas het die ononderdrukbaarste humorsin.
*Klaas have.AUX the irrepressiblest humor.sense
*Klaas has the irrepressiblest sense of humor.

However, there is a strong tendency in Afrikaans to use the morphological superlative, even when the number of syllables would seem to favour the periphrastic form (especially when the adjective is nominalised), as in

die onverstaanbaar·ste omtrent sy broer se dood
the incomprehensible·SUPL about his brother PVT.GEN death
what was most incomprehensible about his brother's death

In the attributive position, the periphrastic form remains acceptable, for instance:

die mees onverstaanbare dinge in jou lewe
the most incomprehensible things in your life

What does seem to be a constriction on the morphological form, is the case where the positive form of the adjective ends in a schwa (whether it is a pseudo-participle or not), as in verleë embarrassed, for instance occurring in this sentence:

Ander mense lag in hul mees verleë oomblikke.
Other people laugh in their most embarrassed moments

and not

*Ander mense lag in hul verleëste oomblikke.
*other people laugh in their embarrassedest moments
*Other people laugh in their embarrassedest moments.

When a present participle is used as an attributive adjective, and the positive form does not end in a schwa, as in vermoënd wealthy, both options are possible:

die mees vermoënde
the most wealthy


die vermoëndste
the wealthiest

The periphrastic superlative can occur with any adjective in cases where the superlative element is embedded in a coordinating construction with a minorative.

Was hierdie praatjie die mins of mees interessante van die twee?
be.PST this talk the least or most interesting of the two
Was this talk the least or most interesting of the two?

In these examples, the morphological superlative seems to be blocked because the superlative element is embedded in a coordinative construction. The behaviour of superlatives with respect to coordination as presented here is identical to the behaviour of comparatives with respect to coordination.

The superlative is normally used to express the highest degree (maximative). However, it is also possible to express the opposite relation, that is the lowest degree (minimative):


Hy is die gewild·ste speler in die span.
he be.PRS the popular·SUPL player in the team
He is the most popular player in the team.


Rina is die mins gewild·e omroeper.
Rina be.PRS the least popular·ATTR announcer
Rina is the least popular announcer.

As evident from the example, the minimative can be formed by putting the words die mins the least in front of the adjective, just as the maximative may be formed by putting the words die mees the most in front of the adjective. However, while the maximative can also be formed by putting the morpheme -ste after the adjective, there is no comparable morphological means of forming a minimative, nor are there irregular minimatives.

Notable is that predicative adjectives may also be expressed in a minimative superlative form, in which case the superlative affix -ste is attached to min little, instead of the following adjective, as in the sentences below:

Sy is die minste begaan oor sy gesondheid.
she be.PRS the least concerned about his health
She is the least concerned about his health.
Attar is die minste bekend in Europa.
Attar be.PRS the least well-known in Euope.

The superlative involves a comparison between two arguments which have received identical thematic roles from identical adjectives. Of the two arguments compared, one expresses the reference set for the comparison: this element can syntactically be termed the superlative complement. The other element is compared to the reference set, and it functions as the highest argument of the adjective. The superlative complement is expressed in a phrase introduced by the function word van of:

Frik is die slim·ste van die seuns.
Frik be.PRS the smart·SUPL of the boys
Frik is the smartest of the boys.

The following superlatives are irregular with respect to the positive degree, but regular with respect to the comparative degree. Put differently, it is not the comparative and superlative which are irregular, but it is the positive degree which is irregular (or suppletive):

goed → beter → beste
good → better → best
graag → liewer → graagste
gladly → rather → most gladly
baie → meer → meeste
much/many → more → most
min / 'n bietjie → minder → minste
little → less → least

The superlative complement PP is part of the superlative AP. It can occur before the noun (and before the attributive adjective) in an attributive construction.

[Die slim·ste van alle seuns] is Frik.
the smart·SUPL of all boys be.PRS Frik
Frik is the smartest of all boys.
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