If you want to express that something is the most or least in French, you'll need to know how to construct French superlative sentences. Though closely related to comparative sentences in content, the construction for superlatives is quite different than that for comparatives.
The French superlative is used any time you want to express that something falls at either end of a spectrum. For example, if you want to express that one person is the tallest in a group and another is the shortest, you will need to use the superlative construction. A straight comparison can be used to compare one person to another, but the person who is the tallest requires the superlative.
- Jean est le plus grand de ce groupe (John is the tallest in this group).
- Paul est le moins grand de ce groupe (Paul is the smallest in this group).
- Paul est le plus petit de ce groupe (Paul is the smallest in this group).
Note that the second and third sentences are alike in meaning, but have a different reference point. The second sentence says that Paul is the 'least big', while the third sentence says that he is the 'most small'. Whichever construction you choose, the meaning is the same. A choice is made based on whether you are talking about how grand people are, or whether you are talking about height in general and can use a different adjective instead of grand.
The French superlative is not especially difficult, but one trap into which students often fall, is forgetting to make the article agree with the subject. For example, Jean and Paul in the above sentences were to become Jeanne and Pauline, the superlatives would have to change to la plus grande and la plus petite.
Common French Superlative Sentences
French superlatives are often used with adjectives such as petit, grand, beau, belle, intelligent, efficace, jeune, etc. Just like the adjective must agree with the subject, don't forget to make the article agree as well. The common superlative construction is always: article + superlative + adjective. This construction will yield phrases like: la plus belle, le plus beau, la moins intelligente, le moins intelligent. Also, don't forget the plural: les plus intelligents, as in ces étudiants sont les plus intelligents que je n'ai jamais eus. (These students are the most intelligent ones I've ever had.)
In addition to making French superlative sentences with adjectives, they can also be made with adverbs, not to mention nouns and verbs. For this type of usage, the constructions are slightly different; however, the vocabulary is largely the same.
- To make a superlative sentence with an adverb, simply substitute an adverb into the adjective's spot in the construction: le plus souvent (most often). One thing to note is that since adverbs don't agree with the subject of the sentence, neither does the article. Therefore, in superlative constructions with adverbs, the first word will always be le.
- With nouns, the construction changes in some cases to include a preposition: de. Insert this preposition between the superlative word and the noun, and your superlative construction is complete. Follow this example: Parmi mes amis, c'est Jean qui a le plus d'intelligence. (Among my friends, John has the most intelligence).
- Another superlative construction with a noun is one in which the noun comes first and then the superlative follows it: De toute ma famille, c'est moi qui a la maison la plus grande. (Of all my family, I am the one with the biggest house). Note that the article and the adjective in this construction do agree with the noun; this is not a superlative noun construction, but an adjectival one. However, the prominence of the noun can create the illusion that the noun is the center of the construction.
- Lastly, superlatives can be used with verbs as well. In this construction, the verb precedes the article and the superlative: travailler le plus (work the most), aimer le moins (love the least).
While this may sound like a lot of details, the superlative is quite easy to learn with only a little bit of practice.