Don't Call This a Superlative Tip

 Is "superlative" just a fancy way of saying "super," or does it have its own meaning? Grammar Girl explains.

Mignon Fogarty
1-minute read


I saw this headline on the Christian Science Monitor website recently and I believe my eye actually twitched:

Will the Tata Nano lose its superlative [emphasis adde] price tag once it hits American shores?

The headline isn't wrong, but "superlative" is tied with "parsimonious" for the honor of being my least favorite word. They both sound too fussy for my ears.

"Superlative" means "superior to all others," and I can't argue that it's wrong in the Christian Scientist Monitor headline because the Tata is reportedly the world's cheapest car. I suppose what makes me twitchy is that people often use "superlative" as a fancy way to say "super," "great," or "wonderful."

I'll go take deep breaths now, but I ask that you reserve "superlative" for referring to the top of the heap:

  • U2, The Black Eyed Peas, and Lady Gaga are great performers.
  • Who do you think was the superlative artist of the year?

About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips and the author of seven books on language, including the New York Times bestseller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing." She is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame, and the show is a five-time winner of Best Education Podcast in the Podcast Awards. She has appeared as a guest expert on the Oprah Winfrey Show and the Today Show.

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