Superior - Inferior, Supreme - ???

  • Konstantinos

    Senior Member
    Greek - Athens
    Let's suppose the lowest one in hierarchy. But I want to focus more on the "construction" and "structure" of English words, not so much on the sample sentences and the context.

    Something like this:

    Super + -ior comparative suffix = Superior
    Infer + -ior comparative suffix = Inferior

    Super + eme = Supreme

    Infer + eme = ???
     

    Myridon

    Senior Member
    English - US
    If you have some things ranked 1 to 100, it is easy to say that 3 is superior to 4 or 4 is inferior to 3. The relationship between 1 and 100 is not as clear.
    In your military example, the Supreme Commander is 1, but 100 in the ranking is not any sort of commander at all.
     

    Konstantinos

    Senior Member
    Greek - Athens
    Thanks both. One more general question. I knew that you can have comparative and superlative forms with -er or -st in the end of the adjective or with the "more"-"most" before it.
    For example, taller or more tall. Tallest or most tall.

    But -ior is a different kind of comparative form, and Supreme is a different kind of superlative form?
     

    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    "Supreme" is an adjective that has comparative and superlative forms: "more supreme" and "most supreme", though we don't often need to use them.
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    The antonyms of supreme are heavily context dependent but least; lowest; littlest; puniest; most minor" are possible.
     
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    Scott AM

    Senior Member
    English - Canada
    Let's suppose the lowest one in hierarchy. But I want to focus more on the "construction" and "structure" of English words, not so much on the sample sentences and the context.

    Something like this:

    Super + -ior comparative suffix = Superior
    Infer + -ior comparative suffix = Inferior

    Super + eme = Supreme

    Infer + eme = ???
    Interesting question. Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way.

    "Superior" and "inferior" both come to English indirectly from Latin, from words that have similar meanings to the current English (superior = above, inferior = below). "Superior" came by way of Old French, and "inferior" may have gone through a Middle English form first.

    On the other hand, "supreme" came to English directly from the Latin "supremus", meaning something like "something that is above". The opposite of "supremus" could be something like "infumus" or "infimus", but no English word was created with that origin. Note that "infamous" has a different etymology.
     

    Scott AM

    Senior Member
    English - Canada
    Hmm... I'm not sure supreme is gradeable. The addition of "most" seems to be an honorific or emphatic.
    I agree. "Supreme" means "better than everything else". Adding quantifiers is kind of like saying "most best" or "less best".
     

    Scott AM

    Senior Member
    English - Canada
    According to the OED, the adjective was infimous. The word is, however, completely archaic.
    I did a quick Google and Ngram search on "infimous". Almost every hit returned is related to "infamous" - either it's:
    - a typo
    - an optical error in text recognition
    - a misspelling to represent quaint dialogue: ("a cock-and-bull story of treachery of a friend, infimous fodgery, and heaven knows what" -- Thackeray, "The Memoirs of Mr. C.J Yellowplush")
    - a deliberate misspelling of used in brand names or aliases to look unique.

    I found one page from an old dictionary that shows that it was indeed the opposite of "supreme".
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    If it helps, the OED has infimous and infamous as quite separate words:
    infimous, adj.
    Etymology: < Latin infimus (superlative of inferus) lowest + -ous suffix.
    Obsolete.
    Very low or base; basest.
    1663 A. Wood Life & Times (1891) I. 476 A yong heire, who valuing not his father's labours, because of his ignorance, put most of his papers..to infimous uses.
    _________________________________________________---
    infamous, adj.
    Forms: Also ME enfamouse, (ME infamis, infames).
    Etymology: Corresponds to rare Old French infameux, medieval Latin infāmōsus = Latin infāmis
    Of ill fame or repute; famed or notorious for badness of any kind; notoriously evil, wicked, or vile; held in infamy or public disgrace.
    1736 tr. C. Rollin Anc. Hist. IX. 7 Perseus was utterly infamous for his crimes.
     

    exgerman

    Senior Member
    NYC
    English but my first language was German
    If it helps, the OED has infimous and infamous as quite separate words:
    Yes, infimous is correctly derived from the Latin superlative corresponding to the comparative inferior. But no one will understand you if you use it. In English (but not in the original Latin), it's a hole in the system.
     
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    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    A little googling found me these examples. I didn't say we use these forms nowadays, but they have been used in the past, and not only in poetry, and to my mind they show that the English word "supreme" is not a superlative in the way that "best" is.

    But I, who more supreme in Heav'n's abodes,
    Jove's sister-wife, and empress of the gods
    Fair virtue only ask of Jove


    To be highly pleased with your book, is what I have in common with the world; but to regard these volumes. as a mark of the author's friendly esteem, is a still more supreme gratification. (1809)

    To account for a thing, we must find something more eternal, more certain, more powerful, more supreme than itself. (1861)

    ...that if I was fortunate enough to behold my cousin sleeping on the field of battle, gasping like his ancestors, the prospect of becoming Count Sancho de Pa- checo, and master of an immense fortune, would be my most supreme happiness. (1803)

    ... the most extreme and abject misery, for the sole reason only, that he may have uninterrupted recourse to the first, and most supreme of powers. (1804)
     

    Scott AM

    Senior Member
    English - Canada
    A little googling found me these examples. I didn't say we use these forms nowadays, but they have been used in the past, and not only in poetry, and to my mind they show that the English word "supreme" is not a superlative in the way that "best" is.
    Those are all good examples, but all they show is that some people in the past might have used supreme in that way, just as people today might. It doesn't necessarily change the definition. Most dictionaries call "supreme" a superlative, although to be fair, some also say that it means "very great" (or similar).
     
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