The Comparative Participle

The Comparative and Superlative (sometime called the Elative Noun)


In Arabic, there is only one word which is used to indicate on the root meaning being carried out to both a greater extent as well as the greatest extent (comparative and superlative). For example, “being eloquent” can be made comparative by saying “more eloquent” and superlative by saying “most eloquent” and one word in Arabic would be used for both of these. Another example is “to be fast”; the comparative would be “faster” and the superlative would be “fastest”.

This noun can occupy most grammatical positions in a sentence. Ones it cannot occupy are easily identified based on the meaning and context and we do not need to discuss this further. Another point to note is that, unlike the participles, the meaning of this noun is usually quite transparent and can be induced without the use of a dictionary.

Furthermore, like the participles, it can be used as both a noun and an adjective. For example, the terms “fastest” and “most expensive” are used as adjectives in the sentence “the Bugatti Veyron is one of the fastest and most expensive cars.” And the term “most deserving” is used as a noun in the sentence “she is the most deserving of all people.”

The chart below gives some examples of this entity’s use as an adjective and a noun, as well as some examples of its use in the comparative context and the superlative context.

Gloss Phrase
he is more eloquent than me هُوَ أَفْصَحُ مِنِّيْ
he is the most eloquent of the eloquent people هُوَ أَفْصَحُ الفُصَحَاءِ
the most eloquent man spoke to me كَلَّمَنِيْ الرَجُلُ الأَفْصَحُ
he is the most eloquent هُوَ الأَفْصَحُ

Now, this entity can be used in many grammatical ways, as can be seen from the chart above:

  • as an indefinite noun
    1. followed by مِنْ
    2. followed by a clarification (تَمْيِيْز)
  • as a definite noun
    1. in a possessive construction (مُضَاف)
    2. as an adjective (صِفَة)
    3. on its own

In (1), it is used as a comparative and in (2), it is used as a superlative. This is not always the case, though. Given the examples below, try to determine which of the constructions is being used, then translate the sentence.

  1. نَحْنُ نَقُصُّ عَلَيْكَ أَحْسَنَ القَصَصِ
  2. إِنَّ كَلِمَةَ اللهِ هِيَ العُلْيى
  3. فَهِيَ كَالحِجَارَةِ أَوْ أَشَدُّ قَسْوَةً
  4. هُوَ أَفْصَحُ مِنِّيْ لِسَاناً
  5. وَالَّذِيْنَ آمَنُوْا أَشَدُّ حُبّاً للهِ
  6. ثُمَّ لَنَحْنُ أَعْلَمُ بِالَّذِيْنَ هُمْ أَوْلى بِهَا صِلِيّاً
  7. أَيُّ الفَرِيْقَيْنِ خَيْرٌ مَقَاماً وَأَحْسَنُ نَدِيّاً

The comparative/superlative noun applies to the active voice in the vast majority of cases and not the passive. For example, making the gerund “to help” superlative would result in the phrase “the most helpful” as opposed to “the one most helped”. Which of the two voices will be used depends on the individual word, but it is usually safe to assume that the active voice is used. Compare the translations in the following list for a few examples.

Meaning Voice Superlative
strongest active أَقْوى
most helpful active أَنْصَر
most famous passive أَشْهَر


This noun exists only for trilateral roots with no extra letters (see Verb Paradigms). The method of construction is simply to place the root letters on the designated pattern. There is only one pattern and it behaves quite regularly; it has been given below.

Broken Plural Sound Plural Singular  
أَفَاعِل أَفْعَلُوْنَ أَفْعَل Masculine
فُعَل فُعْلَيَات فُعْلى Feminine

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