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Chapter 26

RULE 1: There are three degrees of adjectives: positive ("big"), comparative ("bigger") and superlative ("biggest").

RULE 2: The regular comparative ending in Latin is -ior, -ioris. No matter the declension of the positive adjective, all comparatives belong to third declension (but are not i-stem!).

RULE 3: The regular superlative ending in Latin is -issimus, -a, -um. All superlatives belong to first/second declension.

RULE 4: After a comparative, "than" is expressed in Latin by quam (+ same case) or the ablative of comparison.

RULE 5: Quam + superlative = "as X as possible"

I. Grammar

A. The Comparison of Latin Adjectives: Terminology, Formation and Translation

There are three degrees of adjectives: positive (big), comparative (bigger) and superlative (biggest). By nature, comparatives imply the existence of two contrasting entities and superlatives that of at least three.

Comparatives and superlatives in Latin are formed in the following way:

COMPARATIVE = Adjective Base + -ior, -ioris (third declension)

SUPERLATIVE = Adjective Base + -issimus, -a, -um (first/second declension)

Note that these formulae are consistent across declensional lines. That is, no matter the declension of the original adjective, all comparatives belong to third declension and all superlatives to first/second declension.

1. Comparatives

Compared to superlatives, the declension of comparatives is more complex:

1. Comparatives belong to the third declension.

2. As third-declension adjectives, comparatives should be i-stem but they're not: the ablative singular is -e (not -i), the genitive plural is -um (not -ium), and the neuter nominative/accusative plural is -a (not -ia). See Wheelock, p. 123, note 3.

3. The neuter nominative/accusative singular ending is -ius, lacking the distinctive -ior- of the other forms which is easy to confuse with -us, the masculine nominative singular ending of first/second declension adjective in its positive degree (cf. certus vs. certius).

Finally, the translation and usage of comparatives and superlatives are somewhat broader in Latin than English. As well as meaning "X-er" or "more X," comparatives can mean "somewhat X," "rather X" or "too X," i.e. "X in some way above the positive degree." In similar fashion, the superlative "most X" or "X-est" can mean "very X."

B. "Than" Constructions

Latin has two ways of denoting "than." Wheelock introduces only one in this chapter, the more common one which employs quam. The other, the ablative of comparison, is outlined in the Supplementary Syntax at the back of the book (pp. 374-379). You should learn both.

1. Quam + Same Case

We will refer to the comparative construction which uses quam as "quam + same case" because the noun following quam (the thing being compared) is put in the "same case" in Latin as the noun to which it is being compared. Therefore, if asked "What case and why?" in reference to the noun following quam—for example, eam amo plus quam oculos meos ("I love her more than my eyes") with the question "What case is oculos and why?"—the correct answer is "Accusative, quam + same case (in this instance, the same case as the direct object eam)."

2. The Ablative of Comparison

The ablative of comparison is, in fact, a simpler construction than quam + same case—no conjunction and no variable case depending on the thing to which the comparison is being made—when associated with a comparative, the ablative simply connotes "than" (see Wheelock, p. 377). Practice changing the sentences in this chapter which have quam + same case constructions to the ablative of comparison.

C. Quam + Superlative

Quam + superlative = "as X as possible." See quam in the vocabulary on p. 124.

Click here for a worksheet reviewing the constructions introduced in this and the last three chapters.

II. Vocabulary

quidam: = the interrogative base qui- (pronoun or adjective) + the suffix -dam. Thus, it appears to decline down the middle of the word.

pro: This preposition takes the ablative case.

vito: To Wheelock's admonition against confusing forms of vito and vivo, add vita.


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