edited by Meagan Ayer et al.

Irregular and Defective Comparison of Adjectives

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129. Several adjectives have in their comparison irregular forms.

bonus good melior better optimus best
malus bad pêior worse pessimus worst
māgnus great mâior greater maximus greatest
parvus small minor less minimus least
multus much

plūs (n.) more
(§ 120)

plūrimus most
multī many plūrēs more plūrimī most

nēquam worthless
(indecl., § 122.b)

nēquior nēquissimus

frūgī useful, worthy
(indecl., § 122.b)

frūgālior frūgālissimu
dexter on the right, handy dexterior dextimus

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.

130. Some Comparatives and Superlatives appear without a Positive.

ōcior swifter ōcissimus swiftest
potior preferable1 potissimus most important.

a. The following are formed from stems not used as adjectives. 2

cis, citrā on this side
citerior hither citimus hithermost
dēterior worse dēterrimus worst
in, intrā inwithin
interior inner intimus inmost
prae, prō before
prior former prīmus first
prope near
propior nearer proximus next
ultrā 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 (extimusoutmost
īnferus below
(see § 111.b)
īnferior lower īnfimus (īmuslowest
posterus following posterior latter postrēmus (postumuslast
superus above superior higher suprēmus or summus 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. Many adjectives in -ilis or -bilis lack the superlative—for example, agilis, probābilis, and 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) and senex (old man) [cf. § 122.d], are formed the comparatives iūnior (younger) and 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 an Ablative of Specification (see § 418).

d. Many adjectives (such as aureus golden) are incapable of comparison due to their meaning.

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 ātrio).



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

2. 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.