When writing for the TOEFL exam, you will need to use some descriptive language, and that means using comparative and superlative structures. Comparative means to compare two (or more) things, while superlative means saying that one of those things is the best (or worst). Think of the word “super”. It means the very best of something, and that’s what a superlative is.
Success in TOEFL requires a high level of English proficiency, and that means getting good at basic grammar. Comparatives and superlatives are considered a feature of basic grammar and so you should be able to use them confidently and with a high degree of accuracy.
In this article, I will show you how to do that.
What are Superlatives?
In the previous article, I wrote about how to use comparative adjectives and I explained that these words can be changed into a form that allows you to compare a noun with another noun. For example, the adjective “new” could become the comparative adjective “newer” as in the following sentence:
- Spotify is a newer product than
However, if we want to say that Spotify is not just newer than iTunes but is in fact newer than every other similar product on the market, we would need to use the superlative form. This is what we use when there are three or more items being compared:
- Spotify is the newest product on the market and already has the biggest market share.
In that previous example, I have included two superlatives in order to give even more information. These tell the reader that Spotify is newer than all other online streaming services and that it has more customers than any other. However, I have done that with really efficient language so that there are no wasted words and no uncertainties. This is a feature of high-level grammar, and you should be able to do that if you want to succeed in TOEFL.
How to Use the Superlative Form
Adjectives can be made into the superlative form pretty easily. There are really only a few rules to remember. Firstly, one syllable adjectives take the ending “-est.” This is also applied to two-syllable adjectives ending in “-y.” Other two-syllable adjectives and any adjective of more than three syllables should take “most” before the basic adjective form. I will put some examples into a list for you to see how it works:
|Adjective||No. of Syllables||Comparative||Superlative|
|Careful||2||More careful||Most careful|
|Modern||2||More modern||Most modern|
|Expensive||3||More expensive||Most expensive|
|Informative||4||More informative||Most informative|
While with comparative adjectives we usually make the comparison explicit with “than,” it is not necessary to do this for superlatives as the comparison is already implied. Instead, we must use “the” before the superlative form:
- Digital books are the most efficient way of reading nowadays.
- Instant messaging services like WhatsApp have become the most common means of communicating with family members.
Note that I have not stated any alternatives in those two examples. I did not compare digital books to paperback ones or any other kind of book, and I did not compare WhatsApp with other communication methods. The superlative form makes these ideas already implicit for the reader or listener.
Common Mistakes with Superlatives
Although superlatives are generally quite easy to use, there are some definite problems that occur. The most common is using the incorrect form according to the table above. For example, a TOEFL candidate may write:
- Out of all the phones on the market, the iPhone is the expensivest.
In this case, they have picked the “-est” ending for a three-syllable adjective. This is a problem because that requires the “most ______” structure. Instead, they should have written:
- Out of all the phones on the market, the iPhone is the most expensive.
Another common error is forgetting to include the definite article prior to the superlative structure:
- Although WhatsApp is most common means of communication between family members, e-mail is still most popular for business purposes.
- Although WhatsApp is the most common means of communication between family members, e-mail is still the most popular for business purposes.
Don’t forget that a superlative applies to only one thing. If something is the biggest, the strongest, or the most amazing, then there is nothing else equal or great to it. Therefore, we should use the definite article “the” because it is the only one.
Superlatives for TOEFL
Take a look at the following writing task:
- Describe a value from your country that you would like countries to adopt. Explain your choice, using specific reasons and examples.
Here is an excerpt from an answer to this question:
- In my country, freedom of speech is the most important thing, and that is not really considered a priority in other countries. My country is the best at ensuring human rights are respected because we view these as the most essential part of life.
In this answer, I have included three superlative forms in just two sentences. I could easily have incorporated a few comparative structures as well in order to give more depth. Having a range of this sort of language included in your TOEFL essay will give you a good chance of scoring highly.
You should make use of both comparative and superlative structures while preparing for the TOEFL as these can add value and range to your writing. If you wish to receive feedback on your practice essays in order to figure out how you can improve, you can try our writing correction service.