According to OED,

  • hyper-:

    over, beyond, over much, above measure

  • ultra-:


  • super-:

    over, above, higher than

They all have the meaning "higher than", but what is the order of them? That is, which one is the highest? Which one is modest higher? And which one is middle higher?

Update: Thank you all.

I have searched by myself and spotted that, according to Taxonomy, hyperfamily is larger than superfamily. Moreover, as Kris, Mitch and Robusto pointed out, hyper is higher than super in many other usage such as hypersonic/supersonic and hypermarket/supermarket. In addition super is higher than ultra in Audiology. So it seems

ultra < super < hyper

in common usage. On the other hand, in taxonomic ranks of biological classification, the rank hypoorder is larger than suborder, which is larger than infraorder. So a conclusion seems can be made as infra < sub < hypo.

Overall, does it seem the order is

infra < sub < hypo < ultra < super < hyper

in most usages?

  • 1
    In American English, 'ultra-' feels more extreme than 'super-' (by association with it's usage in gasoline varieties), and 'hyper-' is just of another kind altogether and so is not comparable (i.e. there is 'hyperactive' but no 'superactive', there is 'supermarket' but no 'hypermarket').
    – Mitch
    Commented Oct 18, 2012 at 13:18
  • 6
    @Mitch Hypermarkets do exist. Haven't seen an ultramarket yet though.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Oct 18, 2012 at 14:02
  • 4
    You really can never have a definitive ordering for things like this; it's just a set of words that different speakers will at different times perceive differently. It isn't like you're inflecting things into comparative and superlative degrees. I don't think it is possible to have a definitive ordering that all speakers agree on.
    – tchrist
    Commented Oct 18, 2012 at 14:16
  • 2
    Given your edits and extra questions, I'd say that primarily it's mostly vague, but if forced to order them, it would be super < hyper < ultra. and no order possible on sub, infra, hypo (the latter two are so rarely used as to have little association with any particular strength).
    – Mitch
    Commented Oct 19, 2012 at 15:16
  • 1
    I did an analysis of unixes /usr/shar/dict/words wordlist and found 22 triples (all three of super, hyper, and ultra used) and 241 pairs. The most interesting is the root 'conservative', which combines chaotically: hyperconservatism, ultraconservatism, hyperconservative, superconservative, ultraconservative, hyperconservatively, superconservatively, hyperconservativeness, superconservativeness
    – Mitch
    Commented Oct 19, 2012 at 15:36

7 Answers 7


These are not English words, but Greek (hyper) and Latin (super, ultra) prepositions.

Hyper and super mean exactly the same thing, 'above' -- they're cognates, in fact; Greek initial S went to H, and Y was the Greek letter corresponding to Latin V (or U). Greek is of course more prestigious than Latin, but it's not bigger.

Ultra, on the other hand, means 'beyond', as in ultraviolet or ultra vires 'beyond (the powers of) men'.

So I guess ultra would be the ultimate (same root, btw), at least for English speakers who've studied Latin and Greek.

All of them.

  • 2
    They are of Greek origin, but I think they're well enough assimilated that we can call them English words at this point.
    – Casey
    Commented Jun 4, 2016 at 17:03
  • 1
    If this were true, "superhypersensitive" would mean the same as *"hypersupersensitive".
    – Greg Lee
    Commented Mar 5, 2018 at 22:38
  • 2
    And to most people, they would mean the same thing, absent a convention. Commented Mar 5, 2018 at 22:45

John Lawler is right that they mean mostly the same thing. But in terms of actual usage, hyper- is often used when something more than super- is needed. For example, an aircraft that flies faster than the speed of sound is called supersonic. But there arose a need to distinguish between mere supersonic speed and something far beyond that. So hypersonic was next in line. From Wikipedia's article on hypersonic speed:

In aerodynamics, a hypersonic speed is one that is highly supersonic (even though the origin of the words is the same—"super" is just the Latin version of the Greek "hyper"). Since the 1970s, the term has generally been assumed to refer to speeds of Mach 5 and above.

This pattern repeats often in engineering and scientific terminology.

Hyper- is also used when super-, due to its extreme overuse, doesn't feel technical or academic enough. Saying that someone exhibits "super-sensitivity" may mean the same thing as exhibiting "hyper-sensitivity," but the latter term is used by psychologists. (Cf. "hyper-vigilance" and other psych terms).

Additionally, where a word using super- already has a distinct and different meaning, hyper- is the go-to substitute. Supercritical already has an established meaning in science, so hypercritical is used to describe someone who is scolding and sarcastic all the time.

I personally would reserve ultra- as the ultimate superlative (if you will allow the pun).

  • 8
    Is Hyperman stronger than Superman? Or did he just drink more coffee?
    – bib
    Commented Oct 18, 2012 at 14:59
  • 1
    The ultimate superlative lol
    – jjstcool
    Commented Nov 15, 2021 at 1:26
  • Does the copyright for Superman® cover Hyperman too? Or can we resuscitate the Big Red Cheese? Commented Dec 3, 2022 at 17:44
  • 1
    @JohnLawler: That's the rumor, but I think it's just a lot of hype.
    – Robusto
    Commented Dec 3, 2022 at 21:10

The terms used for size, especially in promotional materials do not follow strict logical or grammatical rules. While there may be subtle arguments as to which term truly conveys the most of something or a logical order, these are largely ignored in practice.

Consider the sizes of olives. This is part the sequence for International grading by size:

  • Superior
  • Large
  • Extra Large
  • Jumbo
  • Extra Jumbo
  • Giants
  • Colossal
  • Super Colossal
  • Mammoth
  • Super Mammoth

This is part of the list for American grading

  • Large
  • Extra Large
  • Mammoth
  • Giant
  • Jumbo
  • Colossal
  • Super Colossal

Notice that in the US, Colossal is larger than Mammoth, but the orders are reversed in International standards. In no case is the actual size of olives in one system equivalent in size in the other. Note that these are accepted standards recognized by governments, not just commercial hype.

Sometimes Super is bigger/faster/brighter/tighter than Ultra. Sometimes it's not.

  • 1
    What in the world ever happened to olives of small, medium, and regular size?
    – tchrist
    Commented Oct 18, 2012 at 14:56
  • 1
    @tchrist For a change, we Americans actually still use some real terms for the smaller sizes - sub-petite, petite, midget, small (but also called select or standard), medium. The International standard uses bullets, fine, brilliant and superior. Now lets check Starbucks where the smallest size is called tall.
    – bib
    Commented Oct 18, 2012 at 15:05
  • I see. Here it gives the Californian rankings as Sub-petite, Petite, Small, Medium, Large, Extra Large, Jumbo, Colossal, and Super Colossal, and notes that Europe uses the same words differently.
    – tchrist
    Commented Oct 18, 2012 at 15:12
  • @tchrist That is the source my lists came from. Note that even with in the US there are different labels.
    – bib
    Commented Oct 18, 2012 at 18:21
  • @bib the smallest size at Starbucks is short (8oz). Commented Oct 19, 2012 at 15:22

Could be general reference. The prefixes have definite meanings in Aerodynamics, Audiology and other fields. However, note that the definitions may not apply across domains -- are not hard and fast in general English, and certainly not in non-technical prose.

Electromagnetic Spectrum (Wikipedia)

EHF= Extremely high frequency
SHF= Super high frequency
UHF= Ultra high frequency

super, hyper and ultra
"in some cases ... ultra was named first, and then they found higher frequencies, so super was attached after the ultra. --Ludwigs2" :)

Supersonic and hypersonic in Aerodynamics occur in that order. Supersonic is speed above the speed of sound; hypersonic five times or more than the speed of sound.

Ultrasonic is defined as being beyond human audio range (threshold of hearing), not really related to the other two terms.

  • 1
    Right, "ultrasonic" refers to high frequency while "supersonic" and "hypersonic" refer to high linear speed.
    – minopret
    Commented Oct 18, 2012 at 15:24
  • And megasonic is even higher frequency than ultrasonic.
    – Davo
    Commented Sep 5, 2020 at 12:16
  • Though megasonic is a higher frequency than ultrasonic, I am not sure if it is because mega is being used as a higher superlative than ultra, or just that megasonic means a frequency in the realm of one MHz. In general I would avoid using SI prefixes as superlatives as they already have specific meanings, but sometimes it is done anyway, e.g. the Mega Millions jackpot is not literally trillions (i.e. million millions) of dollars.
    – harperska
    Commented Apr 18 at 15:57

There is no fixed ordering of the three. If you have a need to specify levels of "superness" and you want to use these words, you could put them in any order you like and there would be no objective grounds to say you were wrong.

I'm reminded of the time I was buying laundry detergent and I found that one brand came in three sizes: "large", "family size", and "economy size". Which of those do you suppose was the biggest? The labels were useless. (BTW, "large" was actually the smallest size.)

  • "large" = more than enough for ordinary use. "family size" = enough for a whole family of people. "economy size" = enough to qualify for a quantity discount.
    – Greg Lee
    Commented Mar 5, 2018 at 23:03

I like to follow the Pokemon way of doing thing. If it is great enough for Pokemon, most of the time it is also for my case:

The Potion scale: Normal < Super < Hyper < Max

The Poké Ball scale: Normal < Great < Ultra < Master

As far as I know Pokemon doesnt mix super/hyper with ultra, but as others said I would use Super < Hyper < Ultra.


For figurative, stylistic use, any order is acceptable. Nevertheless, for precise accuracy, I agree with the commentary above regarding the Greek and Latin roots -- and the one who wrote about speeds. They express the root mwanings and a usage example.

Super and Hyper are more-of (yet still of the same substance) while Ultra is outside or beyond such.

Another example, in reading this, one could be critical or complementary, or super critical-or-complementary (if they're in the mood for such). One could be hyper, but such would be excessive. If one was ultra, they would pass out of the realm of critique and into the realm of flirty or insulting. `

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