Italy is a country of superlatives.
It’s known for landscapes that are bellissimi (the most beautiful).
The coffee’s il più buono del mondo (the best in the whole world) and a dress you don’t like isn’t just unappealing, it’s brutissimo (very ugly).
After all, Italians have a lot of things around them that are very beautiful, so it follows that they have strong opinions on quality.
You can expect to find exaggerations in the language, with many things being “the most” or ” the least.”
That’s why, to speak Italian with the expressiveness of a native, you must learn how to use the Italian superlative.
How to Use Italian Superlatives to Bring Out Your Best (and Worst)
What Is a Superlative?
A superlative is an adjective or adverb that describes the highest or lowest quality or degree of something.
Superlatives can be used in a hyperbolic manner—like when every single Italian claims that their own grandma’s cooking is the best in the world. The word “best” in the previous sentence is a superlative.
They’re also often used to describe extreme situations, when something’s either the most or the least, the best or the worst—like the food that you (and not your grandma) tried to cook.
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Forms of the Italian Superlative
The absolute superlative (superlativo assoluto)
The absolute superlative is used to say that something’s “very” something.
Take a look at these two phrases:
La cucina di nonna é buona. — Grandma’s cooking is good.
La cucina di nonna é buonissima! — Grandma’s cooking is very good!
Since grandma is the best chef in the world, saying that her cooking is good just doesn’t do it justice. You need to say that it’s very good.
In Italian, you do that by taking the masculine singular form of an adjective (like bello) and cutting off the last vowel (leaving you with bell-). Then, add -issimo, -issimi, -issima or -issime, depending on the gender and number of the noun or pronoun being modified.
To understand this better, let’s see the extreme form of the word bello in use:
Lui é bellissimo. — He’s very handsome.
Loro sono bellissimi. — They’re (male or mixed gender) very handsome.
Lei é bellissima. — She’s very beautiful.
Loro sono bellissime. — They’re (female) very beautiful.
You can pretty much add -issimo/a/i/e to any adjective to form the absolute superlative.
Brutto (Ugly): Quelle scarpe sono bruttissime! — Those shoes are hideous! (Again, don’t ever offend an Italian’s fashion sense!)
Bravo (Good, talented, well behaved): La bimba é bravissima. — The little girl is very good.
Caldo (Hot): Stai attento! Il forno caldissimo. — Watch out! The oven is very hot.
Freddo (Cold): É freddissimo fuori. — It’s freezing (i.e. very cold) outside.
Irregular Italian Superlatives
There are a few superlative adjectives with irregular spellings. These words are often used to describe extreme situations and are best just memorized in their superlative form:
Ottimo (The best, optimal, excellent): Questo é un vino ottimo! — This is an excellent wine!
Pessimo (Awful, terrible): Ma questo… é pessimo. — But this [wine] is terrible.
Massimo (Maximum): Hai dato il massimo? — Did you give it your best attempt?
Minimo (Minimum): Si può fare questo lavoro con una conoscenza minima. — This job can be done with minimal knowledge.
Infimo (The lowest, least): Quei prodotti sono di infima qualità. — Those products are of the lowest quality.
There are also a handful of words that take -errimo as an ending in the absolute superlative:
Celebre (Famous): Lei è stata celeberrima per 15 minuti. — She was very famous for 15 minutes.
Misero (Miserable): Prima della libertà, lo schiavo era miserrimo. — Before freedom, the slave was wretched.
Aspro (Sour): Questo vino è pessimo: é asperrimo. — This wine is terrible: it’s very sour.
Acre (Bitter): Il Campari é acre ma non é acerrimo. — Campari is bitter but it’s not very bitter.
Integro (Honest): Lo chiamavano “honest Abe” perché era integerrimo. — They called him “honest Abe” because he was so honest.
Salube (Healthy): Si dice che il frappé di cavolo sia saluberrimo. — They say that kale smoothie is super healthy.
Tetro (Gloomy): I film di Tim Burton possono essere teterrimi. — The films of Tim Burton can be very gloomy.
The Relative Superlative
This form is also used to express high praise (or disdain!) but instead of saying someone’s very good or very bad, you use the relative superlative to say someone’s the best or the worst.
It’s called the relative superlative because the description is always relative to something else, even if it’s not mentioned in the sentence. If you’re talking about “the best singer,” for instance, you’re implying that there are other singers who aren’t as good.
There are a few words you can use to describe the best or worst of something:
Migliore (The best): Luciano é il cantante migliore. — Luciano is the best singer.
Peggiore (The worst): La Torta di Frutta è il peggiore dolce di Natale. — Fruitcake is the worst Christmas sweet.
Minore (The least, lesser): Il male minore. — The lesser evil.
Maggiore (Bigger, greater, superior): La sua conoscenza della lingua italiana é maggiore della mia. — His knowledge of Italian is greater than mine.
Note: Sometimes you’ll hear maggiore shortened to maggior in certain phrases like “Per la maggior parte…” meaning “for the most part…”.
Another way of expressing extremes is by using il più (the most) and il meno (the least). You can put il più or il meno in front of any adjective to indicate that the subject is the most or least of something.
Il peperoncino calabrese è il più piccante in tutta Italia. — The peperoncino calabrese [pepper] is the spiciest in all of Italy.
E il peperone è il meno piccante. — And the bell pepper is the least spicy.
Italian Superlative in Use
Just like in English, you use the superlative when you want to describe a person or thing that’s the best, worst, biggest, smallest, most awesome, etc.
Superlative words can be used as adverbs to describe actions (verbs). In Italian, a superlative adverb always appears in the masculine singular form:
Usain Bolt corre velocissimo. — Usain Bolt runs very fast.
Remember that even if the subject is female or plural, the word’s ending doesn’t change:
Anche Dafne Schippers corre velocissimo. — Also, Dafne Schippers [female runner from The Netherlands] runs very fast.
Una lumaca non corre, ma cammina lentissimo. — A snail doesn’t run but crawls very slowly. (Note: camminare for humans means “to walk,” but for insects it translates to “to crawl or to creep”)
Using the Superlative to Search for Information Online
So now that you know how to form Italian superlatives, you can start use them in your conversations.
For an even more immediate use, try applying superlatives to your internet searches.
How many times have you searched for the best solution to a problem or the worst foods for your health in your own language? The same can be done in Italian.
For instance, let’s say you want to find out what the best kind of bread is. Maybe you want to learn how to make bread at home or you’re just curious. You could type the following search query:
il pane più buono — the best bread
Here’s an example of an article that may appear in your results:
“Il pane più buono? Quello che fai tu!” — The best bread? The kind you make yourself!
Or maybe you want to find the easiest way to do something. Maybe you’ve been tasked with making the dessert for an upcoming party and you (not being your grandma) don’t know what to bake—but you know that you want to make an authentic Italian treat. Just search for this phrase:
dolci più facili — easiest sweets
And you might get a delicious result like this:
“Salame di Cioccolato: Il dolce più facile e buono: 7 mosse per prepararlo a casa” — Chocolate salami: the easiest and best treat: 7 ways to prepare it at home (Note: chocolate salami is a type of cookie. It’s not made of meat!)
You can also use the absolute superlative to find information online.
For example, you can type in “montagne bellissime” If you’re looking for images of beautiful mountains. You might find:
“Il bellissimo video che celebra le Dolomiti” — “The very beautiful video that celebrates the Dolomites [mountains in Northern Italy]”
Or maybe you want to know why Ronaldo always shows his abs when he scores a goal:
“Ronaldo festeggia il gol e mostra gli addominali: «La mia ragazza dice che sono bellissimo quando lo faccio»” — “Ronaldo celebrates a goal by showing his abs ‘My girlfriend says that I’m very beautiful when I do that’ [interview]”
Now you know how to turn regular Italian words into the most awesome. Aren’t Italian superlatives just the best?
Jesica Versichele writes about languages, world cultures and food. Check her out at jvcreativecontent.com
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