Degrees of Adjectives

In Portuguese, adjectives change form depending on the gender and number of the noun. Similarly to English, they can also be expressed in different graus paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio degrees:

  • grau normal paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio positive degree
  • grau comparativo paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio comparative degree
  • grau superlativo paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio superlative degree

Positive Degree

This is the basic form of each adjective. We use it to qualify a noun without making any comparisons.
A Joana é uma rapariga feliz. paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio Joana is a happy girl.
O teste foi fácil. paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio The test was easy.

Comparative Degree

You use the comparative degree to… you guessed it: compare!
A Joana é mais feliz que o Pedro. paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio Joana is happier than Pedro.
A Joana é mais inteligente que estudiosa. paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio Joana is more smart than studious.
In the first sentence, we’re comparing the happiness of two different people. In the second, we’re comparing two different attributes of the same person.
The comparative degree can be further divided into:

  • Superiority: This type expresses the idea of “more ___ than” using the adverb mais paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio more. The format is mais + adjective + que or do que.
O meu trabalho é mais difícil (do) que o teu. paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio My work is more difficult than yours.
  • Inferiority: This type expresses the idea of “less ___ than” using the adverb menos paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio less. The format is menos + adjective + que or do que.
Esta casa é menos bonita que a outra. paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio This house is less beautiful than the other.
  • Equality: This type expresses the idea of “as ___ as using the adverb tão paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio as, so. The format is tão + adjective + the conjunctions como or quanto.
Os meus ténis são tão bons como os teus. paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio My sneakers are as good as yours.

Superlative Degree

The superlative degree is used when the attribute indicated by the adjective is present at a level greater than normal. It’s the only degree in which the adjectives themselves are modified, instead of just complemented by other words.
The superlative is further divided in two forms:

  • Absolute superlative: This form is used to talk about possessing a high level of a certain quality. In English, we would use adverbs such as very before the adjective.
  • Relative superlative: This form is used when you want to talk about the highest level of that quality in comparison to others. In English, this is where we would use words like most and least, or the suffix -est.

Let’s see some examples of both types:

Absolute Superlative

There are two possible ways to write an adjective in the superlativo absoluto paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio and both have the same meaning.

  1. The first way is by adding an adverb that indicates excess before the adjective. This could be an adverb like excessivamente paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio excessively or imensamente paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio immensely, but the most common one is muito paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio very Lisboa é muito bonita. paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio Lisbon is very beautiful.
  2. The second way is to transform the adjective itself by adding the suffix -íssimo. For example, fértil paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio fertile becomes:
fertilíssimo paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio very fertile

Variations

There are a few variations for adding the suffix that depend on how the adjective is spelled:

  • If the adjective ends with a vowel, you need to remove that vowel before adding -íssimo
O vestido é belo. O vestido é belíssimo paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio The dress is beautiful. The dress is extremely beautiful.
  • If the adjective ends in -vel, you drop those three letters and add the suffix -bilíssimo instead
Um homem amável. Um homem amabilíssimo. paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio A lovely man. An extremely lovely man
  • If it ends with -z, you remove it and add -císsimo
O João é feliz. O João é felicíssimo. paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio John is happy. John is extremely happy.
  • Also note that these suffixes must agree in gender and number with the noun being modified, so the final -o could become -a, -os, or -as.

Relative Superlative

The superlativo relativo paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio is a little simpler, as it just involves some slight modifications to the comparative form. The structure is: definite article (o, a) + comparativo + de
There are two forms:

  • Relative superlative of superiority: o/a + mais + de 
Este rapaz é o mais feliz do grupo. paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio This boy is the happiest of the group.
  • Relative superlative of inferiority: o/a + menos + de

Esta rapariga é a menos feliz do grupo. paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio This girl is the least happy of the group.
The term possível paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio possible, or another equivalent expression, can also be used to form the superlative relativo.
A casa é a mais barata possível. paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio The house is the cheapest possible.

Usage

There are a few very common Portuguese adjectives which are exceptions to the rules we’ve just covered. They use a completely different word in their comparative and superlative forms, similar to how English uses the word “better” instead of “more good than” and “the best” instead of “the most good”.

Normal Comparative Superlative
bom paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio good(masc.) or boa paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio good(fem.) melhor paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio better ótimo paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio or o melhor paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio the best
mau paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio bad(masc.) or paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio bad(fem.) pior paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio worse péssimo paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio or o pior paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio the worst
grande paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio big maior paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio bigger máximo paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio or o maior paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio the biggest
pequeno paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio small(masc.) or pequena paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio small(fem.) menor paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio smaller mínimo paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio or o menor paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio the smallest

Note: Pequeno is not a total exception, because the construction mais pequeno que is also absolutely acceptable and probably more often used than menor.

Comments

  • Would this be accurate? “Este relatório não só é mau; é tão pior dos outros, é péssimo!” Or, “Esta tubarão é tão grande, não só é maior das outras, é máximo!”
    Thanks for correcting 🙂

    • Not quite accurate, and the main problem is with “dos/das” – this preposition alone doesn’t let you establish a comparison, so you can’t pair it on its own with “tão” or “não só”. The sentences also don’t sound natural, but I understand that this is more of an exercise to get you to use all the different degrees! This would be better: “Este relatório não é só mau; é tão pior do que os outros, é péssimo!” (This report isn’t just bad; it’s so much worse than the others, it’s the worst/terrible!). | “Este tubarão é tão grande; é maior do que os outros. É o maior!” (This shark is so big; it’s bigger than the others. It’s the biggest!).

      Just a note: Grammatically speaking, “máximo” is indeed the superlative form of “grande”. But in the real world, we don’t use “máximo” like that for physical size, but for abstract greatness. For example, if you hear someone say “Tu és o máximo!”, they’re saying “You’re the best!”, not “You’re the biggest!” 🙂

  • So, you mean to tell me that when using the comparative degree, “que” and “do que” are essentially interchangeable? If so, that is great news, as I’ve been struggling with when one versus the other should be used.

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