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  1. 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: korrupcorrupt

    1. Superlative degree, suffixing the morpheme -ste: korrupstecorrupt·SUPLmost corrupt
    2. Superlative degree, adding the word meesmost: die mees korruptethe most corrupt·ATTRthe most corrupt.
    Note that the superlative adjective is preceded by a definite article diethe, and is then either followed by a noun, as in die mees korrupte administrasiethe most corrupt administration, or is nominalised, as in jy is die mooisteyou are the beautiful·SUPLyou are the most beautiful.
  2. The superlative is normally used to express the highest degree (maximative), as in korrupstemost corrupt. However, it is also possible to express the opposite relation, that is, the lowest degree (minimative), as in the following examples.

    Positive degree: gewildpopular

    Minimative superlative degree: die mins gewildethe least popular·ATTRthe least popular.

    Some variety does occur in expressing the superlative (whether maximative or minimative) in that the degree word minsleastcan 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 nienot the most important PTCL.NEGnot the most important, or be marked itself by the superlative suffix -ste, as in mense wat die minste welsprekend ispeople who the least eloquent arepeople who are the least eloquent.

[+] The superlative as degree of comparison

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 doeltreffendeffective and haastighurried in these two sentences:

Example 1

Alle antidepressante is doeltreffend.
All antidepressants are effective.
Example 2

Nou is ek haastig.
now am I 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 eweequally or net sojust as, as in these examples:

Example 3

Alle antidepressante is ewe doeltreffend.
All antidepressants are equally effective.
Example 4

Nou is ek net so haastig soos Zelda.
now am I just as hurried as Zelda

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

Example 5

Die koloniste en die Khoi-Khoin was ewemin bereid om vir die kolonie te werk.
the colonists and the Khoi-Khoi were equally.not prepared PTCL.INF 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

Example 6

Die aanbod is groter as die vraag.
The supply is greater than the demand.

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

Example 7

Taal en kultuur is minder belangrik as ekonomiese geleenthede.
Language and culture are less important than economic opportunities.

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

Example 8

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

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

Example 9

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:

Example 10

Kilimandjaro is die hoogste [van alle alleenstaande berge ter wêreld].
Kilimanjaro is 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).

  1. Morphologically, it can be formed by the addition of the superlative morpheme –ste following the adjective stem, as in vreemdstestrange·SUPLstrangest.
  2. Periphrastically, it can be formed by the addition of the word meesmost, as in mees intelligentemost intelligent·ATTRmost intelligent. The word meesmost is itself the superlative corresponding to positive baiemany/much and to the comparative meermore. Thus there is a priori a choice, although not every adjective allows either a morphological or a periphrastic superlative: intelligentste - mees intelligentemost 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:

Example 11

Die mees ontwaterde oorlewendes is eerste gehelp.
the most dehydrated survivors were first helped
Those survivors who were dehydrated most, were helped first.

The morphological option is not acceptable:

Example 12

*Die ontwaterdste oorlewendes is eerste gehelp.
*the dehydratedest suvivors were first helped

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

Example 13

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

and not

Example 14

*Klaas het die ononderdrukbaarste humorsin.
*Klaas has 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

Example 15

die onverstaanbaarste omtrent sy broer se dood
the incomprehensible.SPL about his brother GEN death
what was most incomprehensible about his brother's death

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

Example 16

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 verleëembarrassed, for instance occurring in this sentence:

Example 17

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

and not

Example 18

*Ander mense lag in hul verleëste oomblikke.
*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 vermoëndwealthy, both options are possible:

Example 19

die mees vermoënde
the most wealthy


Example 20

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.

Example 21

Was hierdie praatjie die mins of mees interessante van die twee?
was 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):


Example 22

Hy is die gewildste speler in die span.
he is the popular.SUPL player in the team
He is the most popular player in the team.


Example 23

Rina is die mins gewilde omroeper.
Rina is 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 minsthe least in front of the adjective, just as the maximative may be formed by putting the words die meesthe 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 minlittle, instead of the following adjective, as in the sentences below:

Example 24

Sy is die minste begaan oor sy gesondheid.
She is the least concerned about his health.
Example 25

Attar is die minste bekend in Europa.
Attar is 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 vanof:

Example 26

Frik is die slimste van die seuns.
Frik is the smartest 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):

Example 27

goed - beter - beste
good - better - best
Example 28

goed - beter - beste
good - better - best
Example 29

graag - liewer - graagste
lovedly - preferredly, rather
Example 30

baie - meer - meeste
much/many - more - most
Example 31

min / 'n bietjie - minder - minste
(a) 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.

Example 32

[Die slimste van alle seuns] is Frik.
the smartest of all boys is Frik
Frik is the smartest of all boys.
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