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Summary Details

Query:   Suppletive Comparative Adjectives
Author:  Jonathan Bobaljik
Submitter Email:  click here to access email
Linguistic LingField(s):   Morphology

Summary:   Regarding query: http://www.linguistlist.org/issues/17/17-313.html#1

I was seeking a list of suppletive comparative adjectives such as the

good --> better (*gooder)

It appears there is no authoritative published list.

Such suppletion occurs in 3 of the 34 languages in the Surrey Suppletion
Database (namely: Basque, Georgian and Russian - the latter is the only
Indo-European language in the database). Within Indo-European, comparative
suppletion occurs in many Germanic, Slavic and Romance languages, and in
Welsh (Wurzel 1987). A (partial) list, corresponding to responses received
thus far (and others from the literature), is given below.

Some questions of definition arise in compiling this list.

Adjectival verbs:

Fiona Mc Laughlin notes that in Wolof, (Atlantic, Niger-Congo), adjectivals
(lexical items most likely to be adjectives) are all verbs, yet even in
this language, there are suppletive adjectival verbs that have only a
comparative meaning:

Faatu dafa njool
Faatu 3s.V-focus V:be tall
Faatu is tall.

Faatu dafa sut Ibu
Faatu 3s.V-focus V: be taller than Ibu
Faatu is taller than ibu.

See: Mc Laughlin 2004 for some discussion. I have limited the list below to
adjectives, though this limitation is not for any principled reason.

Quantificational determiners / adverbs:

Another element which may be analysed as showing comparative suppletion is
quantificational determiners such as:

many/much - more - most
(a) little - less - least

I have not systematically included these in the list below.

Definition of Suppletion (1)

Marcel Erdal gives the Turkish form beter 'worse' as a potential candidate
for suppletion of fena or kötü 'bad'. However, regular comparatives forms
of both fena and kötü exist: daha fena, daha kötü, and beter is restricted
in its distribution (M. Kelepir, S. Sener, N. Sener, pc). I have therefore
excluded beter from the list on the grounds that it does not supplant the
regular comparative form. Compare (perhaps?) English optimal which has a
meaning similar to best, but which does not supplant the superlative best.

Defintion of Suppletion (2)

I have included in the list only those forms which have 'full' suppletion,
that is, are built on a distinct root. Some authors treat other irregular
(phonologically unpredictable) alternations (such as German ''hoch'' -->
''höhe'' = 'high, higher') as suppletion or ''weak suppletion'' (Wurzel). I
have left these off the list.

The following is a list of suppletive comparatives culled from the
responses to the Linguist query cited above. I intend to post a more
complete list to my web page if I develop this further. (I have included
superlatives where these were given, but have not done so consistently).


on - hobe 'good - better'

hyvä - pare-mpi 'good - better'

k'argi-i - u-k'et-es-i / u-mJob-es-i 'good - better'
cud-i - u-ar-es-i 'bad - worse'
cot'a - nak'l-eb-i 'few(er)'
bevr-i - met'-i 'many - more'


mawr - yn fwy na 'big'
bach - yn llai na 'small'
da - yn well na 'good - better'
drwg - yn waeth 'bad(ly)' (adverb)
uchel - yn uwch na 'high'
isel - yn is 'low'
agos - yn nes 'near' (adv)
cynnar - yn gynt 'early' (adv)

English: good - better - best
bad - worse - worst
(many/much - more - most)
(a little - less - least)
far - farther/further
old - elder (with limited sense, e.g., siblings)

German: gut - besser 'good'
gerne - lieber 'gladly' (ADV) [may or may not belong on list]

Dutch: goed - beter - best 'good'
veel - meer - meest 'many/much'
weinig - minder - minst 'few'

Modern West Frisian:
goed - better - bêst 'good'
folle - mear - meast 'much/many'
[in bytsje] - minder - minst 'a little'
ier - earder - earst 'early'
graach (jerne) - leaver - leafst: 'adverb: gladly'

gamall - eldri 'old'
gódur - betri 'good'
lítill - minni 'small'
margur - fleiri 'many'
mikill - meiri 'big'
vondur, illur - verri 'bad, ill'

Italian, Latin
French: bon - meilleur 'good'
mal/ mauvais - pire 'bad'

dobry --> lepsí (good)
spatny --> horsí (bad)
maly --> mensí (small)
velky --> vetsí (big)
zly --> 'horsí' (meaning of very bad situation, but not meaning of
'evil', which is regular)

dobry lepszy najlepszy good, better, best
zly gorszy najgorszy bad, worse, worst
duzy wiekszy najwiekszy big, bigger, biggest
maly mniejszy najmniejszy small, smaller, smallest

xoroshij - luchshe 'good - better'
ploxoj - xuzhe 'bad - worse'
malen'kii - men'she 'small - smaller'
(others may be added to the list depending on the analysis of phonological
(see: Garde 1988)

dobar - bolji
zao - gori
velik - veci
mali/malen - manji

dober --> boljs^i `good --> better'
majhen (definite=mali) --> manjs^i `small --> smaller'
dolg --> daljs^i `long --> longer'
poceni --> cenejs^i `cheap --> cheaper'

Old Church Slavonic:
velii, velik 'big' bolii/bolje/bol'shij 'bigger'

To this list, Welsh (Celtic) should be added (Wurzel 1987)

Thanks to the following for their replies to my Linguist Query (and follow

Elissa Flagg
Greville Corbett
Ljuba Veselinova
Stefan Dyla
Hans Broekhuis
Fiona Mc Laughlin
Georges Rebuschi
Ivano Caponigro
Susi Wurmbrand
Boyan Nikolaev
Jonathan Young
Annabel Harrison
Marijana Marelj
Siebren Dyk
Marcel Erdal
Hana Skoumalova


Mc Laughlin, F. 2004. Is there an adjective class in Wolof? In Aikhenvald &
Dixon, eds. Adjective Classes. OUP: Oxford. 242-262.
Surrey Suppletion database: http://www.smg.surrey.ac.uk/Suppletion/index.aspx
Wurzel, W. 1987. Zur Morphologie der Dimensionsadjektive. In Bierwisch u.
Lang, eds. Grammatische und konzeptuelle Aspekte von Dimensionsadjektiven.
Mouton: Berlin. 459-516.

LL Issue: 17.490
Date Posted: 15-Feb-2006


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