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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,

super

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 the Quick and Dirty Tips network and creator of Grammar Girl, which has been named one of Writer's Digest's 101 best websites for writers multiple times. The Grammar Girl podcast has also won Best Education Podcast multiple times in the Podcast Awards, and Mignon is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame. Mignon is the author of the New York Times best-seller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing" and six other books on writing. She has appeared as a guest on the "Oprah Winfrey Show" and the "Today Show" and has been featured in the New York Times, Business Week, the Washington Post, USA Today, CNN.com, and more. She was previously the chair of media entrepreneurship in the Reynolds School of Journalism in Reno, NV. She hates the phrase "grammar nazi" and loves the word "kerfuffle." She has a B.A. in English from the University of Washington in Seattle and an M.S. in biology from Stanford University. Mignon believes that learning is fun, and the vast rules of grammar are wonderful fodder for lifelong study. 

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