This article will cover a grammar point that is super easy, ridiculously quick to learn and basically the best for a laid-back study sesh. Can you guess by the hints I’m dropping?

In our Season 4 Episode 15 of the Nihongo Master Podcast, we take a look at expressing superlatives in Japanese as part of our Study Saturday language series. We cover all the ways to say “the best”, “very”, “super”, “extremely” and everything else in between. If you don’t already know, the Study Saturday language series is formatted just like the Nihongo Master online learning system. Give the podcast a listen, and if you love it, you’d love our program!

Anyway, even though this article is recapping what we covered in the podcast episode, it also has enough information to get you to grasp the basics of Japanese superlatives!

Image Credit: Freesvg

Grammar Point 

The superlative in English is made with ending most words in “-est” or start them with “the most”. Fast becomes fastest. Convenient becomes the most convenient. But we’re not here to learn English, we’re here to learn Japanese. 

Ichiban (一番)

And in Japanese, the most common way to express superlative is by using the word “ichiban” (一番). This means “number one”. The format goes:

一番 + adjective

Let’s take a look at a few examples. “Fast” is hayai (早い) in Japanese. To say “fastest”, we just add that word after the word “ichiban”: 一番早い. It literally translates to “number one fast” but it’s basically saying “fastest”. 

“Convenient” is “benri” (便利) in Japanese. To say “the most convenient”, using the format above, we get: 一番便利

Mottomo (もっとも)

The formal version of that is “mottomo” (もっとも). So instead of using “ichiban”, you switch it out for “mottomo”. The format is exactly the same: 

もっとも + adjective

Ichiban hayai (一番早い) becomes mottomo hayai (もっとも早い). Ichiban benri (一番便利) becomes mottomo benri (もっとも便利).

Sai~ (最〜)

Another common way to express superlatives is with the prefix “sai” (最), which can be translated to “most”. Words in this category are mostly Sino-Japanese, which means that it’s of Chinese origin or makes use of morphemes of Chinese origin. There are a few exceptions to this, but we won’t go into detail, of course. 

Some common words that use the “sai” prefix that I hear often are: saitei 最低 or saiaku 最悪 (to mean the worst ) and saikou 最高 (to mean the best).

Expressing them in a scope

In any of the ways, you can express them within a scope. All you have to do is have the region after the subject, connect it with “no naka de” or just “de” to mean “in” or “among”, and then add whichever superlative form you want (ichiban, mottomo or sai prefix). The format is:

Subject + Scope (using の中で or で) + Superlative (一番 or もっとも or 最〜) + Adjective + Noun

For example, if you want to say, “Tokyo Sky Tree is the tallest building in Japan”, where the scope is “in Japan”, you can say it as: Toukyou sukaitsurii ha nihon no naka de ichiban takai tatemono. (東京スカイツリは日本の中で一番高い建物。)

Don’t be confused just yet. Let’s have another example. We all know Mount Everest is the tallest mountain in the world. How do we say that in Japanese? Following the format, we get: eberesuto ha sekai de ichiban takai yama. (エベレストは世界で一番高い山。)

Asking a superlative question

Now how do we ask a superlative question? Easy. Simply add the question words (like dare, doko, itsu, Nani and dore), then the ga () particle, then the superlative form of the adjective and then the noun. The format is:

Question word (だれ or どこ or いつ or なに or どれ) +が + Superlative (一番 or もっとも or 最〜) + Adjective + Noun

So if you want to ask your classmate who they think is the coolest in class, you say it as:

kurasu no naka de, dare ga ichiban kakkoii to omou? (クラスの中で、誰が一番かっこいいと思う?)

Vocab Recap

In the podcast episode, we used a few new Japanese words. Here’s a list of them for your reference:

hayai (早い) – fast

Benri (便利) – convenient

Saitei (最低) or saiaku (最悪) – the worst

Saikou (最高) – the best

No naka de (の中で) – in or among

Sekai (世界) – world

Takai (高い) – tall, it can also be used to mean expensive 

Yama (山) – mountain

Kakkoii (かっこいい) – cool

Onaka ga tsuku (お腹がつく) – to be hungry

Chou (超) – very

Iroirona (色々な) – various

Isshoni (一緒に) – together

Sugu (すぐ) – immediately

Douyatte (どうやって) – how

Meccha (めっちゃ) – the informal way of totemo (とても)

Saisoku (催促) – fastest

Houhou (方法) – way

Dekoreeshon (デコレーション) – decoration

Saishin (最新) – latest

Shokuji (食事) – food. Tabemono (食べ物) is also another way to say food 

Tokubestu (特別) – special

Chuumon suru (注文する) – to order

Muzukashii (難しい) – difficult

Dame (だめ) – impossible

Conclusion

So, do you think this article is the best at explaining superlatives? I think it’s the simplest and easiest way of explaining superlatives in Japanese!

Now, I have a question for you: ニホンゴマスタポッドキャストの一番いいことは何ですか?

Speaking of the podcast, tune in to our latest seasons! We have an exclusive podcast promo code that is 50% off your entire subscription of the Nihongo Master program! 

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