English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I always forget that "elative" is no grammar term in English.

In Latin grammars (at least in German ones) "Elativ" is a superlative form that is not translated as superlative but with "very/highly", expressing a high degree but not the absolutely highest degree.

What is the English term for an expression such as: - a most interesting novel

share|improve this question
This is also called elative in English. – Alex B. Jul 10 '12 at 14:10
By a few people, perhaps. Most educated English speakers wouldn't understand the term, and would probably also be pretty unclear about positive, comparative, and superlative. – John Lawler Jul 10 '12 at 15:34
@JohnLawler, of course! Just like most educated German speakers wouldn't understand the word "Elativ". – Alex B. Jul 10 '12 at 19:13
@rhuffstedtler, "elative" is pretty common in linguistic typology. References? How about this one books.google.com/…? – Alex B. Jul 10 '12 at 19:15
@Alex B- just as an interesting note, the table 6-1 on page 109 of your reference is missing the opposite of Excessive which I might call "Insufficient"- i.e., David is not smart enough. – Jim Jul 10 '12 at 19:45

I have typically seen "most" in your example labeled as an intensifier in English grammar. It's functioning as a grammatical expletive rather than as a true superlative.

Alex B. - do you have a reference for that being called an elative in English? I was not able to find one.

share|improve this answer
You comment to Alex should be a comment in the main item, not in your answer. – Mitch Jul 10 '12 at 15:58

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.