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4.1.Equative, comparative and superlative formation

With gradable adjectives, three types of comparison are possible: comparison in relation to (i) a higher degree, (ii) the same degree, and (iii) a lower degree. Extending the traditional terminology, we can make the following terminological distinction both for higher and for lower degree comparison: positive, comparative and superlative degree. In order to avoid laborious terms, such as “comparative in relation to a higher degree", we will use the notations in the third column of Table 1, which are partly new coinages. When it is not relevant whether comparison is in relation to a lower or to a higher degree, we will continue to use the traditional terms comparative and superlative.

Table 1: The degrees of gradable adjectives
degree description name example
traditional this study
no comparison positive positive groot‘big’
comparison in relation to a higher degree comparative majorative groter‘bigger’
superlative maximative grootst‘biggest’
comparison in relation to the same degree equative even groot‘as big’
comparison in relation to a lower degree comparative minorative minder groot‘less big’
superlative minimative minst groot‘least big’

The forms in Table 1 are illustrated again in Table 2 by means of the adjective klein'small'. These examples also show that the majorative and minorative forms can be followed by a comparative dan/als-phrase, that the equative form can be followed by an als-phrase, and that the maximative and minimative forms can be followed by a prepositional van-phrase. These comparative phrases indicate which entities are involved in the comparison, that is, they determine the comparison set or standard of comparison.

Table 2: The degrees of gradable adjectives (illustration)
example translation
Positive Jan is klein. Jan is small.
Majorative Jan is kleiner dan/als Marie. Jan is smaller than Marie.
Maximative Jan is het kleinst van de klas. Jan is the smallest of the group.
Equative Jan is even klein als Peter Jan is as small as Peter.
Minorative Jan is minder klein dan/als Peter. Jan is less small than Peter.
Minimative Jan is het minst klein van de klas. Jan is the least small of the group.

This section is organized as follows. Section 4.1.1 starts with a discussion of the semantic properties and the derivation of the degrees of comparison distinguished in Table 1. This discussion will show that the majorative and maximative are normally derived by affixation with -er and -st, although in some cases a periphrastic form can or must be used; the conditions under which this is the case will be the topic of Section 4.1.2. Section 4.1.3 continues with a discussion of some of the properties of the als/dan/van-phrases of comparison. Section 4.1.4 concludes with a discussion of examples such as Deze tafel is even lang als breed'This table is as long as wide', where the comparison does not involve the entities that the adjectives are predicated of, but the properties denoted by the adjectives themselves.

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