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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.

By
Mignon Fogarty,

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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?
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