Degrees of Adjectives

In Portuguese, adjectives can change depending on the gender and number and, similarly to English, they also have different graus (degrees). They are: the grau normal positive degree; the grau comparativo comparative degree; and the grau superlativo superlative degree.

Grau Normal – Positive Degree

This is the basic form of each adjective. We use it to qualify a noun without making any abstract or concrete comparisons.

A Joana é uma rapariga feliz. Joana is a happy girl.

O teste foi fácil. The test was easy.

Grau Comparativo – Comparative Degree

You use the comparativo when you want to compare attributes between two beings/objects or different attributes of the same being/object.
Examples:

A Joana é mais feliz que o Pedro. Joana is happier than Pedro.

A Joana é mais inteligente que estudiosa. Joana is more smart than studious.

In the first sentence, we’re comparing the happiness of two people. In the second, we’re comparing two different attributes of the same person.

The grau comparativo is further divided into:

  • comparativo de superioridade (superiority), which is formed by placing the adverb mais before the adjective and the conjunctions que or do que after.

    O meu trabalho é mais difícil (do) que o teu. My work is more difficult than yours.

  • comparativo de inferioridade (inferiority), which is formed by placing the adverb menos before the adjective and the conjunctions que or do que after.

    Esta casa é menos bonita que a outra. This house is less beautiful than the other.

  • comparativo de igualdade (equality), which is formed by placing the adverb tão before the adjective and the conjunctions como or quanto after.

    Os meus ténis são tão bons como os teus. My sneakers are as good as yours.

Grau Superlativo – Superlative Degree

The superlative degree is used when the attribute we’re referring to is present at a level greater than normal. It’s the only degree where adjectives can be modified, instead of complemented, by other words.

The superlative is further divided in two forms:

  • superlativo absoluto (absolute) – which is used, for example, when someone possesses a high level of a certain quality;

  • superlativo relativo (relative) – which is used when you’re comparing that someone to a group of people regarding the same quality

Superlativo Absoluto

There are two possible ways to write an adjective in the superlativo absoluto and both have the same meaning. The first way is by adding an adverb that indicates excess before the adjective, and the most common one is muito.

Lisboa é muito bonita. Lisbon is very beautiful.

Other adverbs include excessivamente excessively, imensamente immensely, and so on.

The second way is to transform the adjective itself, by simply adding the suffix -íssimo. For example, the word fértil becomes fertilíssimo very fertile.

With many adjectives, however, that transformation will deviate slightly. Let’s take a look at a few cases in which that happens:

  • if the adjective ends with a vowel, you need to remove that vowel before adding -íssimo:

    O vestido é belo. O vestido é belíssimo The dress is beautiful. The dress is extremely beautiful.

  • if the adjective ends in -vel, you remove those three letters and add the suffix -bilíssimo instead:

    Um homem amável. Um homem amabilíssimo. A lovely man. An extremely lovely man

  • if it ends with a -z, you remove it and add -císsimo:

    O João é feliz. O João é felicíssimo. John is happy. John is extremely happy.

Superlativo relativo

The superlativo relativo is a little simpler, as it just involves some slight modifications to the comparative form (adding a definite article (o, a) before the comparative form and using de at the end). There are two forms:

  • superlativo relativo de superioridade – which is formed by placing a definite article before the comparativo de superioridade. For example:

    Este rapaz é o mais feliz do grupo. This boy is the happiest of the group.

  • superlativo relativo de inferioridade – which is formed by placing a definite article before the comparativo de inferioridade. For example:

    Esta rapariga é a menos feliz do grupo. This girl is the least happy of the group.

So remember, it’s pretty similar to the comparativo, but the superlativo relativo structure is: definite article + comparativo de superioridade/inferioridade + the conjunction de.

The term possível possible, or another equivalent expression, can also be used to form the superlative relativo.

A casa é a mais barata possível. The house is the cheapest possible.

Special note

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”.

Grau Normal Grau Comparativo English Equivalent
bom/boa melhor better
mau/má pior worse
grande maior bigger
pequeno/pequena menor smaller

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

Grau Normal Grau Superlativo English Equivalent
bom/boa ótimo / o melhor the best
mau/má péssimo / o pior the worst
grande máximo / o maior the biggest
pequeno/pequena mínimo / o menor the smallest

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