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A friend of mine was talking about a film he has seen a trailer for and sarcastically heaping superlatives on it. He then wondered what the opposite of superlative (as a noun) is.

I suggested sublative, which I hadn't heard of but made up based on the idea that sub is the opposite of super.

However the definition of sublative is

Having power, or tending, to take away.

So is there a word that is the opposite of superlative (the noun form)?

  • "subpar" could work as a kind of antonym to the adjective, but not the noun. – Henrik N Jun 16 '11 at 19:55

10 Answers 10

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I would think that the word superlative would not have an antonym. Rather, the opposite of a superlative for a given adjective would be to use the antonym of that adjective in its corresponding superlative form. For example, the word thick has as its superlative the word thickest. There is no word lesser than the word thick: the adjective is already in its most minimal state. To express the opposite of thickness, one would use the term thin, and its superlative form thinnest. One could say less thick and least thick, but that would be grammatically awkward.

  • Gramatically, "biggest" is a superlative, but "smallest" is also a superlative. – GEdgar Jun 16 '11 at 13:16
  • My friend agrees with you. – Matt E. Эллен Jun 16 '11 at 21:11
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The superlatives used by hack movie reviewers may be thought of as a form of hyperbole. The opposite of that would be something like understatement:

understatement |ˈəndərˌstātmənt|
noun the presentation of something as being smaller, worse, or less important than it actually is
[NOAD]

3

A pejorative (also called a derogatory term, a term of abuse, or a term of disparagement) is a word or grammatical form expressing a negative connotation, a low opinion of someone or something, or showing a lack of respect for someone or something. It is also used as criticism, hostility, disregard and/or disrespect.
—“Pejorative”, Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Consider the following statement.

One of the presidential candidates in the 2016 campaign consistently resorts to the use of alternating superlative and pejorative statements.

  • +1 Yes. This question has been waiting five years for your answer. Pejorative (n.) is a term for strongly negative adjectives, just as superlative (n.) is a term for strongly positive adjectives. – MetaEd Oct 3 '16 at 18:01
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The dictionary definition of the noun 'superlative', in the context in which you're using it, is "the superlative form of an adjective". The superlative form of an adjective is basically the 'most positive' form. Based on that definition, the best antonym that can be used as a noun I can think of is negative, or perhaps insult.

Sublative also seems like a good candidate and is a literal antonym of superlative, but it seems to be quite rare and so people might not understand the word's meaning.

  • 1
    "superlative" is not the "most positive" form; it is the "most emphatic" or "most magnified" form, usually in a comparative or ordering sense. – KeithS Jun 16 '11 at 16:34
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There are two primary meanings to 'superlative':

  • to an extreme degree
  • to an extremely positive degree

(the first is more of a description of grammatical words, the second in more common use)

For the plain old extreme degree, the antonym, or opposite, would be to a minimal degree, of no distinction, and the antonym would be something like

average

or

mediocre.

(though the latter has the connotation of not just middling but bad).

Your context though is looking for words of an extremely negative degree. So 'superlatives' as a noun is the same as a superior quality to an extreme degree, whose opposite is an inferior quality to the same degree...and there's no exact word filling that description.

Though this is not the same situation, I feel bound to mention that the word

maximal

meaning 'there is none better' (which is somewhat in the same camp as 'superlative') has the accepted antonym meaning 'there is none worse':

pessimal.

  • @Martha: which is all to say, that I don't think there is an existing exact antonym for 'superlative' (nothing in a thesaurus helps), and I used this as an excuse to give 'pessimal'. – Mitch Jun 16 '11 at 13:34
  • The Oxford American Writer's Thesaurus (built into OS X) lists (only) mediocre as an antonym of superlative. – Henrik N Jun 16 '11 at 19:56
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How about:

Inferiorities

As in, he could start telling about the trailer's inferiorities.

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    maybe just me - but inferiorities doesn't sound natural in this context. you'd rather say the trailer's drawbacks – JoseK Jun 16 '11 at 10:12
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I would say "diminutive". In Spanish, Portuguese and German suffixes (ie.-inho/inha [pt], -ito, -ita [es] and -chen[ge/de]) can be added to the words in order to make it smaller.

grammar : a word, affix, or name usually indicating small size : a diminutive (see 2diminutive 1) word, affix, or name https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/diminutive

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I think people are seeking the opposite of "superlative" as a noun, not as a descriptor for a particular adjective and it's relation to "big, bigger, biggest" etc. It's certainly why I looked up the word. To get a sense of what I mean, and as a "for instance" one might say "it was sensational, amazing, incredible....its actually running out of superlatives to describe it" In opposition to this, you could say "it was vile, disgusting, abhorrent...I'm actually running out of...." What am I running out of? That was the missing word I was looking for. I'm guessing "super" is rooted in Greek? So to oppose "super" you would have "sub" (underneath) or "infra" (lower than) I'm going to go with "infrative"! It has an applied logic, after all .

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If 'superlatives' is taken in its colloquial sense as meaning 'terms of highest praise' then perhaps the antonym would be infamies which would be 'terms of deepest condemnation'.

I know that this is not the real dictionary definition of 'infamies' but words like 'worst' and 'poorest' are, technically, superlatives being the superlatives of 'bad' and 'poor'. But they would not be included in a list of 'superlatives' in the OPs sense.

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Something I think some answers may have overlooked is that a superlative modifies an adjective to increase the magnitude of its meaning, whether that meaning is good or bad. So, "better" and "best" are superlatives of "good", but "worse" and "worst" are also superlatives, of the word "bad". Althrough each word in turn decreases the standing of the noun decurateds with the adjective, each word increases the magnitude of the meaning of the previous adjective in the superlative chain. You can think of it like math: good = 1. better = 2x1 = 2. best = 3*1 = 3. bad = -1. worse = 2*-1 = -2. worst = 3*-1 = -3.

As far as a true antonym to the word "superlative", the most common one I find is simply "inferior", here used as a noun. So, "good" is the inferior of "better".

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