Just think how often you say something is ‘better’ than something else, or ‘nicer’, ‘cleaner’, ‘brighter’, maybe even ‘worse’ or ‘sadder’. These words are known, quite suitably, as comparatives, because when we use them, we compare different things: ’My Polish is better than yours’ (sorry, it’s probably not!).
The superlative is the comparative’s big brother, and he leaves no room for comparison. Instead the superlative describes those things that are the top and bottom of your spectrum: ‘My Polish is the best, but my English is the worst.’
In Polish it is really easy to form the comparative or superlative form an adjective, but there are some exceptions to the rule, and, just like in English, a few words that have no comparative version. Below, we’ll take a look at common ways to get these words, and hammer out the odd ones.
Getting the Comparative
Getting the comparative form of Polish adjectives isn’t hard on the whole. In most instances the comparative form is achieved by changing the adjective’s ending (from the stem) to -szy in the masculine, -sza in the feminine, and -sze in the neuter. For example:
The adjective, czysty (clean), becomes czystszy (cleaner), and the adjective, szybki (fast), becomes szybszy (faster).
Remember that this example is in the masculine, and in Polish, adjectives change their endings depending on the gender of the noun they describe.
As always, there are some exceptions to this rule, but don’t worry, they are not too hard! Firstly, where an adjective ends in -ny, and its stem ends in a consonant, the extra sound -iej- is often added before the ending -szy(m). Take wczesny (early), for example; its comparative form is wcześniejszy (earlier), and the same goes for its opposite późny (late), which has the comparative późniejszy (later).
For many words in English, to form the comparative, we use the word ‘more’ in a phrase - ‘more pleasant’, ‘more careful’, for example. The same goes for some Polish adjectives, and in these cases we make no change to the word ending, instead using the preceding words ‘bardziej’ (more) or ’mniej’ (less). (bardziej suchy (literally more dry), mniej mokry (literally more wet)).
Finally, there are some Polish adjectives that are entirely irregular when it comes to forming the comparative, and these can only really be learned by experience. Common words like dobry (good) and zły (bad) come under this category. Their comparatives arelepszy (better) and gorszy (worse). Notice how these two examples are actually irregular in English as well.
Getting the Superlative
Once you have got the hang of finding the comparative form of an adjective, it is a really small and relatively easy step to the superlative. All we really have to do is add the prefix naj- to the comparative version of an adjective.
So, as czysty (clean), has the comparative czystszy (cleaner), its superlative form is simply, najczystszy (cleanest). Just as the superlative of szybszy (faster) is najszybszy (fastest).
It is also really easy to get the superlative form for adjectives that were irregular, or ones that required preceding words like bardziej to form their comparative. Again, all that is required is the prefix -naj, applied to either the irregular comparative, or the preceding word.
So, as bardziej mokry (wetter) requires the preceding word, we add our superlative prefix here instead, making it najbardziej mokry (wettest). Similarly, with irregular adjectives we can just go right ahead and add the prefix to the front of the comparative with its altered stem: lepszy (better) becomes najlepszy (best) and gorszy (worse) becomes najgorszy.