he works hardest, he's nicest

Ariel Knightly

Senior Member
Brazilian Portuguese
Why are the superlative forms possible in the following sentences? Could comparative forms substitute for them?

He's nicest when he's with children.
He works hardest when he's doing something for his family.
 
  • earthmerlin

    Senior Member
    English-US
    The superlative is used in your examples in order to show the highest degree of the person's attributes in those situations. Take your first sentence. Using 'nicest' means he doesn't get any nicer than when he's with children (he's as nice as he can possibly be then).

    If you use the comparative the meaning changes. 'He's nicer when he's with children' means that he's more pleasant than usual while in the company of kids. It's possible he's nicer still (or nicest) when he's with dogs, seniors, etc. The comparative can imply there's yet another, even more pleasant side to him when certain conditions are met or variables are present. Does this make sense?
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Well, you could use comparative forms, but they wouldn't substitute for the superlatives - they'd mean something different*:

    He's horrible when he's with work colleagues.
    He's nicer when he's with children.
    But he's nicest when he's with his wife.

    ---------

    * EDIT: As earthmerlin has just said:D
     

    earthmerlin

    Senior Member
    English-US
    Hi, Ariel! My guess is, both these sentences have missing, implied, parts. The complete sentences would read:

    He's nicest of all the nice persons he can be (or is) when he's with children.

    He works hardest than all the instances in which he works hard when he's doing something for his family.

    If the comparative form is used then the implication is that only two ways or degrees of being nice, and only two instances of him working hard, are being compared. So the sense (or, at least, the emphasis) will change slightly.
    I don't believe there are any missing parts in the original examples. To my knowledge, it's the comparative that technically requires a complete comparison (which is oftentimes omitted). The superlative can stand alone.
     

    mannoushka

    Senior Member
    Iran/Persian
    You are right, earthmerlin. The parts added by me (in red) were not omissions in the sense that their not being part of the original sentences made the sentences grammatically incorrect or vague in meaning. I only meant to show how the sentences could be expanded to reveal the reason why superlatives had been used. But you are quite right. I would do well to delete the post since I now see others had already responded in far clearer terms to the posted question. Thanks!
     

    Ariel Knightly

    Senior Member
    Brazilian Portuguese
    You are right, earthmerlin. The parts added by me (in red) were not omissions in the sense that their not being part of the original sentences made the sentences grammatically incorrect or vague in meaning. I only meant to show how the sentences could be expanded to reveal the reason why superlatives had been used. But you are quite right. I would do well to delete the post since I now see others had already responded in far clearer terms to the posted question. Thanks!
    You shouldn't have deleted your post; the so-called omissions were quite important to make clear where the superlative meaning was.
     
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