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123. In Latin, as in English, there are three degrees of comparison: the Positive, the Comparative, and the Superlative.

124. The Comparative is regularly formed by adding -ior (neuter -ius),1 the Superlative by adding -issimus (-a, -um), to the stem of the Positive, which loses its final vowel:—

Note.--A form of diminutive is made upon the stem of some comparatives: as, grandius-culus, a little larger (see § 243).

cārus, dear (stem cāro-); cārior, dearer; cārissimus, dearest.
levis, light (stem levi-); levior, lighter; levissimus, lightest.
fēlīx, happy (stem fēlīc-); fēlīcior, happier; fēlīcissimus, happiest.
hebes, dull (stem hebet-); hebetior, duller; hebetissimus, dullest.

a. Participles when used as adjectives are regularly compared:—

  1. patiēns, patient; patientior, patientissimus.
  2. apertus, open; apertior, apertissimus.

125. Adjectives in -er form the Superlative by adding -rimus to the nominative. The comparative is regular:—

  1. ācer, keen; ācrior, ācerrimus.
  2. miser, wretched; miserior, miserrimus.

a. So vetus (gen. veteris ) has superlative veterrimus , from the old form veter; and mātūrus , besides its regular superlative ( mātūrissimus ), has a rare form mātūrrimus.

For the comparative of vetus , vetustior (from vetustus ) is used.

126. Six adjectives in -lis form the Superlative by adding -limus to the stem clipped of its final i-. These are facilis , difficilis , similis , dissimilis , gracilis , humilis .

  1. facilis (stem facili-), easy; facilior, facillimus.

127. Compounds in -dicus (saying) and -volus (willing) take in their comparison the forms of the corresponding participles dīcēns and volēns , which were anciently used as adjectives:—

  1. maledicus, slanderous; maledīcentior, maledīcentissimus.
  2. malevolus, spiteful; malevolentior, malevolentissimus.

a. So, by analogy, compounds in -ficus:—

  1. māgni ficus, grand; māgnificentior, māgnificentissimus.

128. Some adjectives are compared by means of the adverbs magis, more, and maximē, most.

So especially adjectives in -us preceded by e or i:—

  1. idōneus, fit; magis idōneus, maximē idōneus.

Note.--But pius has piissimus in the superlative,—a form condemned by Cicero, but common in inscriptions; equally common, however, is the irregular pientissimus.

Irregular Comparison

129. Several adjectives have in their comparison irregular forms:—

Note.--These irregularities arise from the use of different stems (cf. § 127). Thus frūgālior and frūgālissimus are formed from the stem frūgāli-, but are used as the comparative and superlative of the indeclinable frūgī .

bonus, good; melior, better; optimus, best.
malus, bad; ior, worse; pessimus, worst.
māgnus, great; ior, greater; maximus, greatest.
parvus, small; minor, less; minimus, least.
multus, much; plūs (N.) (§ 120), more; plūrimus, most.
multī, many; plūrēs, more; plūri, most.
nēquam (indecl., § 122. b), worthless; nēquior; nēquissimus.
frūgī (indecl., § 122. b), useful, worthy; frūgālior; frūgālissimus.
dexter, on the right, handy; dexterior; dextimus.

Defective Comparison

130. Some Comparatives and Superlatives appear without a Positive:—

ōcior, swifter; ōcissimus, swiftest.
potior, preferable; 2 potissimus, most important.

a. The following are formed from stems not used as adjectives:3

cis, citrā (adv., on this side): citerior, hither; citimus, hithermost.
(prep., down): dēterior, worse; dēterrimus, worst.
in, intrā (prep., in, within): interior, inner; intimus, inmost.
prae, prō (prep., before): prior, former; prīmus, first.
prope (adv., near): propior, nearer; proximus, next.
<*>ltrā (adv., beyond): ulterior, farther; ultimus, farthest.

b. Of the following the positive forms are rare, except when used as nouns (generally in the plural):—

exterus, outward; exterior, outer; extrēmus (ex timus ), outmost
īnforus, below (see § 111. b); īnferior, lower; īnfimus ( īmus ), lowest.
posterus, following; posterior, latter; postrēmus (pos tumus ), last.
superus, above; superior, higher; suprēmus or sum mus, highest

But the plurals, exterī, foreigners; īnferī, the gods below; posterī, posterity, superī, the heavenly gods, are common.

Note.--The superlative postumus has the special sense of last-born, and was a well known surname.

131. Several adjectives lack the Comparative or the Superlative:—

a. The Comparative is rare or wanting in the following:—

bellus , inclutus (or inclitus ), novus ,
caesius , invictus , pius ,
falsus , invītus , sacer ,
fīdus (with its compounds), meritus , vafer.

b. The Superlative is wanting in many adjectives in -ilis or -bilis (as, agilis, probābilis), and in the following:—

āctuōsus exīlis prōclīvis surdus
agrestis ingēns propinquus taciturnus
alacer iēiūnus satur tempestīvus
arcānus longinquus sēgnis teres
caecus oblīquus sērus vīcīnus
diūturnus opīmus supīnus

c. From iuvenis, youth, senex, old man (cf. § 122. d), are formed the comparatives iūnior, younger, senior, older. For these, however, minor nātū and mâior nātū are sometimes used ( nātū being often omitted).

The superlative is regularly expressed by minimus and maximus , with or without nātū .

Note.--In these phrases nātū is ablative of specification (see § 418).

d. Many adjectives (as aureus, golden) are from their meaning incapable of comparison.

Note.--But each language has its own usage in this respect. Thus, niger, glossy black. and candidus, shining white, are compared; but not āter or albus , meaning absolute dead black or white (except that Plautus once has ātrior ).

1 The comparative suffix (earlier -iōs) is akin to the Greek -ίων, or the Sanskrit -iyans. That of the superlative (-issimus) is a double form of uncertain origin. It appears to contain the is- of the old suffix -is-to-s (seen in ἥδ-ιστο-ς and English sweetest) and also the old -mo-s (seen in prī-mus, mini-mus , etc.). The endings -limus and -rimus are formed by assimilation (§ 15. 6) from -simus. The comparative and superlative are really new stems, and are not strictly to be regarded as forms of inflection.

2 The old positive potis occurs in the sense of able, possible.

3 The forms in -trā and -terus were originally comparative (cf. alter ), so that the comparatives in -terior are double comparatives. Īnferus and superus are comparatives of a still more primitive form (cf. the English comparative in - er ). The superlatives in -timus (-tumus) are relics of old forms of comparison; those in -mus like īmus , summus , prīmus, are still more primitive. Forms like extrēmus are superlatives of a comparative. In fact, comparison has always been treated with an accumulation of endings, as children say furtherer and furtherest.

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