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36 Comparative and Superlative

2011.05.0076

A marble lekythos, inscribed with a name above the left figure. 4th c. B.C. Athenian Agora Excavations.


Comparative and Superlative Adjectives

 

Introduction

As we have already learned, adjectives describe nouns and pronouns. In order to describe a noun or pronoun, an adjective must match the noun in gender, number and case.

Greek adjectives also have DEGREES:

  • The POSITIVE degree refers to the quality or quantity conveyed by the meaning of the adjective
    • tall, short
  • The COMPARATIVE degree refers to MORE of the quality or quantity conveyed by the adjective
    • taller, shorter
  • The SUPERLATIVE degree refers to the MAXIMUM of the quality or quantity conveyed by the adjective
    • tallest, shortest

 

Comparative and Superlative Degree: -τερος/-τατος

For most adjectives, the comparative degree is marked by adding -τερος -α -ον to the masculine stem of the positive degree. To mark the superlative degree, the endings -τατος -η -ον are added to the masculine stem. (S 313; GPH p. 35, ). For adjectives that have these endings, the PERSISTENT ACCENT is on the ANTEPENULT.

 

μωρός -ά -όν dull, stupid (masc. stem: μωρο-)

  • Comparative: μωρότερος -α -ον
  • Superlative: μωρότατος -η -ον

σοφός -ή -όν wise (masc. stem: σοφο-)

  • Comparative: σοφώτερος -α -ον
  • Superlative: σοφώτατος -η -ον

πιστός -ή -όν trusted (masc. stem: πιστο-)

  • Comparative: πιστότερος -α -ον
  • Superlative: πιστότατος -η -ον

ἀληθής -ές true (masc. stem: ἀληθεσ-)

  • Comparative: ἀληθέστερος -α -ον
  • Superlative: ἀληθέστατος -η -ον

βαρύς -εῖα -ύ (masc. stem: βαρυ-)

  • Comparative: βαρύτερος -α -ον
  • Superlative: βαρύτατος -η -ον

 

Note that in the above examples, the final ο of masculine stems sometimes appears as ω before the addition of the τερ/τατ markers. Generally speaking, the LENGTH of this vowel is OPPOSITE the length of the preceding vowel:

  • μωρότερος -α -ον
  • σοφώτερος -α -ον

However, if the preceding stem vowel is followed by two consonants or a double consonant (e.g. ξ, ψ, ζ), ο appears regardless of the length of the preceding vowel:

  • πιστότερος -α -ον

 

Comparative and Superlative Degree: -ίων/-ιστος

As in English, some Greek adjectives form their comparatives and superlatives differently. The most common alternative marker for the comparative degree is -(ί)ων -(ι)ον. We encountered this form in our previous discussion of adjectives. To review:

βελτίων -ιον (stem: βέλτιον-) better (S 293; GPH p. 11)

Singular

M/F N
Nominative βελτίων βέλτιον
Genitive βελτίονος βελτίονος
Dative βελτίονι βελτίονι
Accusative βελτίονα βέλτιον

Plural

M/F N
Nominative βελτίονες βελτίονα
Genitive βελτιόνων βελτιόνων
Dative βελτίοσι βελτίοσι
Accusative βελτίονας βελτίονα

 

Adjectives that form their comparative degree with -(ί)ων -(ι)ον usually form their superlative degree with -ιστος -η -ον. For adjectives that have these superlative endings, the PERSISTENT ACCENT is on the ANTEPENULT (e.g. βέλτιστος –η –ον).

In many cases, comparatives and superlatives that end in -(ί)ων /-ιστος are adjectives that, while comparative or superlative in meaning, have no positive degree form of their own. These forms are called IRREGULAR COMPARISONS (S 319). Note the following examples.

ἀγαθός -ή -όν good

  • ἀμείνων –ον better, braver
  • βελτίων –ιον better, more virtuous
  • κρείττων –ον better, stronger
  • ἄριστος –η –ον best, excellent
  • βέλτιστος –η –ον best, most virtuous
  • κράτιστος –η –ον best, strongest

κακός -ή -όν bad

  • κακίων –ιον morally worse
  • χείρων –ον worse
  • ἥττων –ον worse, weaker
  • κάκιστος –η –ον morally worst
  • χείριστος –η –ον worst
  • ἥκιστα least of all

αἰσχρός -ά -όν shameful

  • αἰσχίων –ιον more shameful
  • αἴσχιστος –η –ον most shameful

ἐχθρός -ά -όν hostile

  • ἐχθίων –ιον more hostile
  • ἔχθιστος –η –ον most hostile

ἡδύς –εῖα -ύν sweet

  • ἡδίων –ιον “sweeter”
  • ἥδιστος –η –ον “sweetest”

καλός -ή -όν beautiful

  • καλλίων –ιον more beautiful
  • κάλλιστος –η –ον most beautiful

μέγας μεγάλη μέγα big

  • μείζων –ον bigger
  • μέγιστος –η –ον biggest

μικρός -ά -όν small

  • μικρότερος –α –ον smaller
  • ἐλάττων –ον smaller
  • ἥττων –ον less, worse, weaker
  • μικρότατος –η –ον smallest
  • ἐλάχιστος -η -ον smallest
  • ἥκιστα least of all

ὀλίγος -η -ον few

  • μείων –ον fewer
  • ἐλάττων –ον smaller
  • ἥττων –ον fewer, worse, weaker
  • ὀλίγιστος -η -ον fewest, least
  • ἐλάχιστος -η -ον fewest
  • ἥκιστα least of all

πολύς πολλά πολύ many

  • πλείων –ιον or πλέων –ον more
  • πλεῖστος –η –ον most

ῥᾴδιος –α –ον easy

  • ῥᾴων ῥᾷον easier
  • ῥᾷστος –η –ον easiest

ταχύς ταχεῖα ταχύ swift

  • θάττων, θᾶττον swifter
  • τάχιστος –η –ον swiftest

Note also the forms and meanings of these adjectives, which we have already encountered in our lesson on adjectives:

  • ἀμφότερος -α -ον both
  • ἑκάτερος -α -ον each (of two)
  • ἕκαστος -η –ον each
  • ἕτερος -α –ον other
  • πότερος -α -ον which (of two)?
  • πρότερος -α -ον previous < πρῶτος -η –ον first
  • δεύτερος -η –ον second
  • ὕστερος -η –ον later
  • ἡμέτερος -η –ον our
  • ὑμέτερος -η –ον your

 


Comparative and Superlative Adverbs

 

Greek adverbs, like adjectives, also have DEGREES:

  • The POSITIVE degree: wisely
  • The COMPARATIVE degree: more wisely
  • The SUPERLATIVE degree: most wisely

Recall that to form the positive degree of most adverbs, start with the GENITIVE PLURAL of the MASCULINE ADJECTIVE and substitute –ς for the final –ν (S 343). The ACCENT remains as it was on the genitive plural.

For example:

Adjective Genitive Plural Adverb
ἀληθής ἀληθές ἀληθῶν ἀληθῶς
ἡδύς ἡδεῖα ἡδύ ἡδέων ἡδέως
κακός –ή –όν κακῶν κακῶς
ὅλος -η -ον ὅλων ὅλως

 

In Greek, adverbs do not have unique endings in the comparative and superlative degrees. To form a COMPARATIVE ADVERB, Greek uses the NEUTER ACCUSATIVE SINGULAR form of the COMPARATIVE ADJECTIVE:

  • σοφώτερον more wisely
  • βέλτιον better

To form a SUPERLATIVE ADVERB, Greek uses the NEUTER ACCUSATIVE PLURAL form of the SUPERLATIVE ADJECTIVE:

  • σοφώτατα most wisely
  • τάχιστα most swiftly, quickest

 


Indicating a Comparison

 

There are TWO CONSTRUCTIONS in Greek that indicate a COMPARISON in a sentence. Both are translated the same in English.

  • Using the word to mean than
  • Using the Genitive of Comparison

Socrates is wiser than Polemarchus.

  • ὁ Σωκράτης ἐστὶ σοφώτερος ἢ Πολέμαρχος.
  • ὁ Σωκράτης ἐστὶ σοφώτερος Πολεμάρχου.

Socrates speaks more wisely than Polemarchus.

  • ὁ Σωκράτης λέγει σοφώτερον ἢ Πολέμαρχος.
  • ὁ Σωκράτης λέγει σοφώτερον Πολεμάρχου.

 


η! What’s This?

 

Pay close attention to the accent and breathing of , so you do not confuse it with other words of totally different meaning.

or (smooth breathing; acute or grave accent)

  • than (comparison)
  • or (conjunction)

(smooth breathing; circumflex accent)

  • I was (1st sg. imperfect indicative active of εἰμί)

(rough breathing; no accent)

  • the (fem. nom. sg. of definite article)

or (rough breathing; acute or grave accent)

  • who, which (fem. nom. sg. of relative pronoun)

(rough breathing; circumflex accent; iota subscript)

  • to/for whom, which (fem. dat. sg. of relative pronoun)
  • wherewhich way, how (adverb from fem. dat. sg. of relative pronoun)

 

– τὸ τέλος –

 


Key Terms and Concepts

  • POSITIVE, COMPARATIVE, AND SUPERLATIVE
  • COMPARATIVES/SUPERLATIVES IN –τερος/-τατος
  • COMPARATIVES/SUPERLATIVES IN –-(ί)ων /-ιστος
  • COMPARATIVE ADVERBS
  • SUPERLATIVE ADVERBS
  • COMPARISON WITH 
  • GENITIVE OF COMPARISON

Vocabulary

ἀγαθός -ή -όν good

  • ἀμείνων –ον better, braver
  • βελτίων –ιον better, more virtuous
  • κρείττων –ον better, stronger
  • ἄριστος –η –ον best, excellent
  • βέλτιστος –η –ον best, most virtuous
  • κράτιστος –η –ον best, strongest

κακός -ή -όν bad

  • κακίων –ον morally worse
  • χείρων –ον worse
  • ἥττων –ον worse, weaker
  • κάκιστος –η –ον morally worst
  • χείριστος –η –ον worst
  • ἥκιστα least of all

αἰσχρός -ά -όν shameful

  • αἰσχίων –ιον more shameful
  • αἴσχιστος –η –ον most shameful

ἐχθρός -ά -όν hostile

  • ἐχθίων –ιον more hostile
  • ἔχθιστος –η –ον most hostile

ἡδύς –εῖα -ύν sweet

  • ἡδίων –ιον “sweeter”
  • ἥδιστος –η –ον “sweetest”

καλός -ή -όν beautiful

  • καλλίων –ιον more beautiful
  • κάλλιστος –η –ον most beautiful

μέγας μεγάλη μέγα big

  • μείζων –ον bigger
  • μέγιστος –η –ον biggest

μικρός -ά -όν small

  • μικρότερος –α –ον smaller
  • ἐλάττων –ον smaller
  • ἥττων –ον less, worse, weaker
  • μικρότατος –η –ον smallest
  • ἐλάχιστος -η -ον smallest
  • ἥκιστα least of all

ὀλίγος -η -ον few

  • μείων –ον fewer
  • ἐλάττων –ον smaller
  • ἥττων –ον fewer, worse, weaker
  • ὀλίγιστος -η -ον fewest, least
  • ἐλάχιστος -η -ον fewest
  • ἥκιστα least of all

πολύς πολλά πολύ many

  • πλείων –ιον or πλέων –ον more
  • πλεῖστος –η –ον most

ῥᾴδιος –α –ον easy

  • ῥᾴων ῥᾷον easier
  • ῥᾷστος –η –ον easiest

ταχύς ταχεῖα ταχύ swift

  • θάττων, θᾶττον swifter
  • τάχιστος –η –ον swiftest

Exercises

Ι. Please provide the comparative and superlative nominative singulars for each of the following positive adjectives. Each is formed regularly, i.e., the comparatives are formed by adding -τερος, α, ον, and the superlatives are formed by adding -τατος, η, ον.

  1. σοφός, ή, όν wise
  2. μακρός, ά, όν large
  3. πιστός, ή, όν trusted
  4. ἐσθλός, ή, όν noble
  5. δεινός, ή, όν terrible
  6. ἀξιός, ά, όν worthy
  7. φοβερός, ά, όν fearful

ΙΙ. Translate into Greek and decline in full (all numbers and cases) the following noun-adjective combinations. Be sure to include the appropriate articles.

  1. The most virtuous life
  2. The wiser battle
  3. The sweetest bread
  4. The bigger book

Readings

Isocrates 2.11-14: AGE Readings 20.

κατὰ Λουκᾶν 22:24-30: AGE Readings 20b.

 

License

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Comparative and Superlative by Wilfred E. Major and Michael Laughy is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.