TEFL Worksheet Generator - make your own worksheets

How to teach superlative adjectives

By Alex Case
Adjectives with “most” and “-est” teaching tips, including what to teach about superlative adjectives, common difficulties with making and using them, and how to present them with and without comparatives.

Although it is often good to teach comparative and superlative adjectives together, there are also times when you might want to have a lesson just on “the most…” and “the …est”, due to lack of time in one class and not wanting to overwhelm the students. This article explains how to do so.

What students need to know about superlative adjectives

Superlative adjectives like “the shortest/ nicest/ biggest/ happiest/ most interesting/ best” are used to describe the most extreme of three or more options, e.g. a toaster that costs twenty dollars when all the others cost thirty dollars or more. Superlative adjectives like “the nicest” usually take “the”, as there is only one “the nicest”, in the same way that there is only one “the first”.

The rules for making the different superlative forms are:

  • short adjectives, including almost all one-syllable words, take -est (“fastest”)
  • adjectives ending with -e lose the -e before adding -est (“barest”)
  • adjectives ending with a short vowel and a single consonant double that consonant before the -est (like “fitter”, which would otherwise be “fiter”, pronounced like “fighter”)
  • -y changes to -iest (“happiest”, etc)
  • long words take “the most” (perhaps because “the interestingest” is difficult to pronounce and sounds silly)
  • there are some irregular forms like “the worst” and “the furthest”

These are all the same rules as comparative adjectives, and the doubled consonants is part of the same “blocking Magic E” rule as can be seen in “spotted”. A lesson on superlatives is therefore a good chance to see how much students understand those more general rules.

Particularly if students have already learnt those rules, it is worth presenting collocations like “by far the most expensive”, “the worst by a considerable margin”, “the biggest, but not by much” and “the second best”. Students often also need the much less commonly taught opposite form “the least…”

Typical student problems with superlative adjectives

Students sometimes get confused between “most…/ …est” and extreme forms like “incredibly”. This can be avoided by using pictures that avoid extremes, e.g. three circles which are all medium-sized but with the “the biggest” slightly bigger than the other two.

Students often produce forms like “the most cheapest”. This is also common among English-speaking kids, but is sometimes used to mean “the cheapest by far”, so teaching that collocation can help.

Although it rarely comes up, superlative forms of extreme adjectives like “the most boiling” X are both illogical and grammatically incorrect.

How to present superlative adjectives

As you will almost always present superlatives after students already know comparatives, it makes sense to revise “thinner than” etc as you present “the most” and “-est”. This can be done by students labelling pictures with A, B and C by reading descriptions like “A is larger than B. C is larger than A, so C is the largest”. After doing the same with other adjectives, students can make the rules for forming superlative forms, then perhaps draw pictures to match other descriptions of A, B and C.

If you want to avoid bringing comparatives into the lesson, the superlative can be presented with example sentences such as marketing slogans (“The best a man can get”, etc) or presentation hooks. After matching the phrases to situations that they could be used in, saying which phrases they think are most effective, etc, students can try to remember the superlative forms and/ or work out what the rules are.

How to drill superlative adjectives

It often makes senses to drill “Sad, sadder, the saddest” etc, but you can avoid the comparative by drilling opposites like “The happiest” “The saddest”. 

How to practise superlative adjectives

This is dealt with in the article 13 fun superlative practice activities.

Written by Alex Case for Tefl.NET January 2024
Alex Case is the author of TEFLtastic and the Teaching...: Interactive Classroom Activities series of business and exam skills e-books for teachers
© Tefl.NET

2 Comments

  • Alex Case says:

    Three of those are not adjectives and so cannot have comparative adjective forms. Ungradable adjectives are not used in comparative forms, but black could perhaps be used as a gradable adjective, in which case that might be okay.

  • Khalid Ahmed Jamac says:

    Thank you all teacher of this course and others today I want to comments lesson about adjectives especially comparative and superlative for example the word is (Black)
    Adjective comparative. Superlative.
    Black. Blacker. Blackest
    Sell. Seller. Sellest
    Lobby. Lobbier. Lobbiest
    People. More people. Most people

Leave a comment




Tefl.NET : ESL Lesson Plans : Classroom Ideas : Grammar Ideas : How to teach superlative adjectives